Thursday, October 28, 2010

Yet again, I am shocked, shocked

David Liddington the Europe Minister explains why there are no immediate (or any other plans) for a referendum on anything European.

Ring out the old, ring in the .... errm .... new?

Good bye to "Labour's failed Regional Development Agencies". Instead, we shall have the shining new Local Enterprise Partnerships.
Local Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said: "Over the last decade, the country's economy became skewed by artificial boundaries and top-down prescription that did not work".

"We want to create a fairer and more balanced economy driven by private sector strength, and our plan for local growth will create local enterprise partnerships, reform the planning system and introduce development incentives for local authorities, like allowing them to keep their business rates, so all parts of the country benefit."
Hurrah! Well, sort of.
Lord Heseltine will chair the Independent Advisory Panel, made up of academics, business and civic leaders, and will consider all bids submitted to the fund by LEPs and will make recommendations to Ministers.
What a good thing Labour was voted out and the Cleggerons formed a Coalition. Everything is so different.

They are right

It will not surprise readers of this blog to find out that I tend to agree more with the other side than with the rather wishy-washy, supposed allies such as the so-called Conservative eurosceptics. The Centre for European Reform, an organization that used to be a kind Gorbachev type reformers of the European Union are people who speak the same language as the real eurosceptics. In fact, they have long ago abandoned their perestroika credentials, leaving them to Open Europe and New Direction.

CER has a blog of varying interest but it is always useful to read their postings to find out what the europhiliac agenda is or to have it confirmed. Here is the entry on the Strategic Defence and Security Review. No messing around here. Clara Marina O'Donnell goes straight for the important question: is this good for European defence integration?

After the usual blah about pragmatism being europhiliac whereas euroscepticism that points to the various problems in the whole concept of European defence integration being sectarian, extremist and generally reprehensible, we get to the meat.
The coalition government's plan to work more closely with its allies is both positive and long overdue. For decades, Britain and other European countries have wasted a lot of money by duplicating the development of military equipment. Depending on the outcome of the Franco-British summit, the new UK government might go further in promoting the cause of European defence co-operation than any of its predecessors.

But London must invest the same political energy it has devoted to France towards exploring additional savings with other European countries. In the SDSR, the government opens the possibility of closer defence co-operation with Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain. But other countries could also offer niche savings, including Poland and Sweden which have shown a keen interest in improving their military capabilities in recent years. The UK should also actively encourage its European allies to strengthen co-operation amongst themselves. As Britain's own military preparedness diminishes, it has a greater interest in other European countries taking up the slack.

The second piece of good news in the SDSR is the rather constructive attitude of the UK towards EU defence co-operation. Before the general election last spring, key members of the Conservative party – in particular William Hague, now the Foreign Secretary, and Liam Fox, now in charge of defence – voiced serious reservations about EU efforts in defence. Liam Fox worried that federalists within the EU were trying to develop a European army. He openly opposed some of the steps towards a stronger EU foreign policy foreseen in the Lisbon treaty. And he was keen to withdraw the UK from the European Defence Agency, a body which encourages common efforts amongst EU countries in developing defence capabilities.
Just one problem with the whole notion and Ms O'Donnell does not deal with it: exactly what will be the purpose of a not very advanced integrated European defence force?

Monday, October 25, 2010

A couple of interesting items from the House of Lords

Here is Lord Stoddart again, this time asking a Written Question:
To ask Her Majesty's Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Neville-Jones on 11 October (WA 40) concerning the European Investigation Order, whether they will reconsider their decision to accede to the directive before final agreement is made; and what arrangements they are making for Parliamentary discussions of this issue.
Naturally enough, HMG does not exactly bother to reconsider anything, no matter how foolish it was. But we do have another problem. Even if they did, mirabile dictu, reconsider their decision to opt in the European Investigation Order, they cannot do anything about it, as Lady Neville-Jones explains:
My Answer of 11 October 2010 stated that the United Kingdom will be unable to withdraw from the directive. I can further explain that, in line with Article three of Protocol 21 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union concerning the position of the United Kingdom (and Ireland) in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice, the UK is able to opt in to a draft directive within the three month opt-in period, but that the Government cannot then subsequently reverse this decision (to opt in). This means that the UK will be bound by any text that is agreed after qualified majority voting (QMV) in the Council of Ministers. However, should the Government not like the final negotiated proposal the UK can vote against it and attempt to form a blocking minority alongside other likeminded member states in order to prevent its adoption.
Good luck with that: the new rules for QMV make it well-nigh impossible to form a blocking minority. The whole process used to be rather easy as this BBC site explains: there were 87 votes and 62 were needed to pass a proposal while 27 constituted a blocking majority. You could do a bit of negotiating here and there. All that has changed. This gives you some idea of the complications, which are due to increase in 2014 when a system of double majority will be introduced as it was decided in the Constitutional Lisbon Treaty. (Article 16 on page 24 of the Treaty on European Union, known as the TEU, since you ask.)

The House of Commons produced a good paper on the Treaty of Nice (whose arrangements for QMV still stand) and pages 19 to 24 discuss the subject exhaustively. Suffice it to say that, at present, a blocking minority in most circumstances is 91 votes. As I said good luck with getting that on any important subject.

On the same day there was a Written Statement from Lord Howell of Guildford, which was a copy of the one in the Commons, made by David Liddington. It summed up what was going to take place in the forthcoming Foreign Affairs Council, to be attended by that great giant of international statesmanship, William Hague and the General Affairs Council, to be attended by another giant of political thinking, David Liddington.

I thought this paragraph might be of interest, given the Prime Minister's stated intention to lead a rebellion about the EU Budget, which has, in fact, been decided on.
October European Council

Ministers will look ahead to the October European Council, which takes place in Brussels on 28 and 29 October and will be attended by the Prime Minister. The Council agenda includes economic governance, the Single Market Act, climate change, the Seoul G20 summit, and the EU-US summit. There may also be discussions on the EU-Russia summit, Pakistan (see below) and the EU budget review.
It would appear that a possible discussion of the budget is very low on that list. What we really need to be paying attention to is the Boy-King's stand on that economic governance.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

About that EU budget increase

Let us start in the House of Lords where the Comprehensive Standing Review Statement was repeated by Lord Sassoon, the Commercial Secretary to the Treasury, on Wednesday afternoon. During the debate after it, Lord Stoddart asked a very reasonable question (Lord Stoddart specializes in being very reasonable and it seriously annoys the europhiliacs)
The Government have ring-fenced health and overseas aid. Is there not another item that has been ring-fenced? It is our net contribution to the European Union, which is £6.7 billion this year. Would the Minister agree that if that were reduced by 20 per cent, it would enable 55,000 more nurses, policemen or teachers to be employed? Should our country not come first rather than subsidising other countries?
Whether we really do want all those extra nurses, policemen and teachers is a separate issue. But our contribution to the EU Budget has not only been ring-fenced, it is actually set to increase.

I can't say that Lord Sassoon's response filled me with any great cheer:
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, for a question that reminds us that we are working extremely hard as a nation to live within our means. It is equally important that within Europe the European Union also lives within its means. The Government will be doing everything they can to make sure that proper financial discipline is applied to the European budget this year and for the next spending period. I do not know, but I have a sense-I might like to ask on the subject-that the Labour Members of the European Parliament were today voting to allow the European Union to have its own tax-raising powers to fund a separate pot of money. The present Government want to see proper discipline applied to European Union expenditure.
It really is time members of Her Majesty's Government and, indeed, all politicians realized that as far as the Toy European Parliament is concerned these party games are meaningless. That is not how that institution works. In any case, what Lord Sassoon should have been concentrating on is the vote on increasing the EU Budget by 5.9 per cent which will raise the UK's contribution by another £843 million, taking its gross contribution to £15.67 billion. (In parenthesis, let me note that I see no rationale for looking at "net" contribution. After all, nobody says: "Ah yes, I pay so much in tax but get so much back in whatever the government decides to spend the money on so my net tax contributions is really only this.")

In the meantime, the Boy-King has realized that this might be quite a difficult issue and has come out fighting huffing and puffing, as the Boss on EURef has noted. No harm in going through it again.

First of all, as the Boss has pointed out, if we get away from the headline, what we actually get is:
Dismissing calls for extra money from British taxpayers as “outrageous”, he said he would lead a rebellion to force the EU to make cuts in line with those being made by national governments.
Oh wizard! He will lead a rebellion? He and whose army of rebels? And how is he going to lead it after the Toy Parliament has already passed the increase?

How the EU Budget is decided is, like everything else, defined in the Treaties. Article 314 [scroll down]states:
The European Parliament and the Council, acting in accordance with a special legislative procedure, shall establish the Union's annual budget in accordance with the following provisions.

1. With the exception of the European Central Bank, each institution shall, before 1 July, draw up estimates of its expenditure for the following financial year. The Commission shall consolidate these estimates in a draft budget. which may contain different estimates. The draft budget shall contain an estimate of revenue and an estimate of expenditure.

2. The Commission shall submit a proposal containing the draft budget to the European Parliament and to the Council not later than 1 September of the year preceding that in which the budget is to be implemented. The Commission may amend the draft budget during the procedure until such time as the Conciliation Committee, referred to in paragraph 5, is convened.

3. The Council shall adopt its position on the draft budget and forward it to the European Parliament not later than 1 October of the year preceding that in which the budget is to be implemented. The Council shall inform the European Parliament in full of the reasons which led it to adopt its position.

4. If, within forty-two days of such communication, the European Parliament:

(a) approves the position of the Council, the budget shall be adopted;

(b) has not taken a decision, the budget shall be deemed to have been adopted;

(c) adopts amendments by a majority of its component members, the amended draft shall be forwarded to the Council and to the Commission. The President of the European Parliament, in agreement with the President of the Council, shall immediately convene a meeting of the Conciliation Committee. However, if within ten days of the draft being forwarded the Council informs the European Parliament that it has approved all its amendments, the Conciliation Committee shall not meet.

5. The Conciliation Committee, which shall be composed of the members of the Council or their representatives and an equal number of members representing the European Parliament, shall have the task of reaching agreement on a joint text, by a qualified majority of the members of the Council or their representatives and by a majority of the representatives of the European Parliament within twenty-one days of its being convened, on the basis of the positions of the European Parliament and the Council. The Commission shall take part in the Conciliation Committee's proceedings and shall take all the necessary initiatives with a view to reconciling the positions of the European Parliament and the Council.

6. If, within the twenty-one days referred to in paragraph 5, the Conciliation Committee agrees on a joint text, the European Parliament and the Council shall each have a period of fourteen days from the date of that agreement in which to approve the joint text.

7. If, within the period of fourteen days referred to in paragraph 6:

(a) the European Parliament and the Council both approve the joint text or fail to take a decision, or if one of these institutions approves the joint text while the other one fails to take a decision, the budget shall be deemed to be definitively adopted in accordance with the joint text; or

(b) the European Parliament, acting by a majority of its component members, and the Council both reject the joint text, or if one of these institutions rejects the joint text while the other one fails to take a decision, a new draft budget shall be submitted by the Commission; or

(c) the European Parliament, acting by a majority of its component members, rejects the joint text while the Council approves it, a new draft budget shall be submitted by the Commission; or

(d) the European Parliament approves the joint text whilst the Council rejects it, the European Parliament may, within fourteen days from the date of the rejection by the Council and acting by a majority of its component members and three-fifths of the votes cast, decide to confirm all or some of the amendments referred to in paragraph 4(c). Where a European Parliament amendment is not confirmed, the position agreed in the Conciliation Committee on the budget heading which is the subject of the amendment shall be retained. The budget shall be deemed to be definitively adopted on this basis.

8. If, within the twenty-one days referred to in paragraph 5, the Conciliation Committee does not agree on a joint text, a new draft budget shall be submitted by the Commission.

9. When the procedure provided for in this Article has been completed, the President of the European Parliament shall declare that the budget has been definitively adopted.

10. Each institution shall exercise the powers conferred upon it under this Article in compliance with the Treaties and the acts adopted thereunder, with particular regard to the Union's own resources and the balance between revenue and expenditure.
I think we can say with some justification that the Boss over on EURef is absolutely correct. The chances of the Boy-King actually doing anything about this are similar to my chances of being asked to dance the lead in the next production of Swan Lake at Covent Garden. The real question is does he know this? Has he read Article 314 and does he understand it? In other words, we are asking that old old question: is he a knave or a fool or a combination of the two?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

No, not quite

No, this is not quite the salvation the country has been waiting for. The Boss on EUReferendum points out a couple of things about the so-called spending cuts. One is that they are not exactly cuts, merely a decrease in the rate of increase. That most of us realized despite all that cheering and yelling from the camp-followers. But another important matter is that
Even after these spending cuts, total public spending (Total Managed Expenditure) in 2014-15 will be higher in real terms than in 2008-09. At 41 per cent of GDP, this will be around the same level of public spending as in 2006-07. Spending on public services in 2014-15 will be higher than 2006-07 levels in real terms.
Where does that information come from? Page 17 pf the full Treasury Report.

This must be a bitter pill

As the Boy-King, his best friend, little Georgie-Porgie and their other little friends are slapping each other on the back and rolling around with excitement at the thought of all those cuts in welfare spending and one or two other things (though one suspects the final tally will not be all that impressive) news comes that the European Parliament has voted to increase the 2011 EU budget by 5.9 per cent.
If the EU budget was frozen at 2010 levels (€123bn or £108.2bn) the UK contribution would have been £14.82bn. But under the European Parliament’s increased budget (€130bn or £114.4bn) the UK will contribute £15.67bn. This represents an increase £843m to the UK’s gross contribution.
We knew it, did we not? Cameron just had to turn round and wag his finger at them and all will be well.
On top of that, Britain has been defeated on extension of maternity leave: The European Parliament has today voted to extend the European Commission’s proposals on maternity leave to 20 weeks on full pay. An internal European Parliament impact assessment estimates that the cost of the changes to the UK will be €3 billion (£2.5 billion) per annum. This figure has been confirmed by the UK Government.
Clearly we are winning in Europe. Not!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What does this mean?

This is not the first time I have despaired of trying to make some sense of HMG's response to a perfectly reasonable question. Here is one example. Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked HMG, in the light of recent comments by the Deputy Governor of the Bank of England that made a number of us raise our eyebrows:
what is their assessment of comments by the Deputy Governor of the Bank of England that savers should increase their levels of spending in light of the policy of encouraging people to save for their retirement.
On behalf of HMG Lord Sassoon replied:
The Government are committed to reinvigorating private pension saving. In the short term it is also important that household spending supports demand and recovery in the economy. This contribution to stronger national income now will in turn contribute to stronger saving in the future.
As this was a Written Answer, I cannot ask whether the man is listening to himself but did he not even check what sort of gibberish his civil servants had written?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

One would think he had enough to worry about

President Sarkozy seems untroubled by the mess his country is descending into. Instead, he is hopping around with another idea. Well, actually, it is quite an old idea but, clearly, there are reasons why he wants to bring it to the fore again. In fact, what he is probably worried about is his popularity rating. Time to bring forward President Sarko the Great Statesma. (drum roll)

Der Spiegel reports that Le P'tit Nicolas' latest idea is "push for the creation of a European security council at his summit meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in France on Monday and Tuesday".

Other European countries and the United States are wary of this hyperactivity as well they might be. It will undermine NATO, which is what it is meant to do, worry the Americans (also meant to do), scare the East Europeans and do nothing at all for any real understanding between Russia and Western countries.
Sarkozy appears to want to seize on the outcome of a meeting between Merkel and Medvedev in Germany in July which called for the creation of a new foreign minister-level security forum between the EU and Russia. The French president is envisaging a "technical, human and security partnership" with Russia -- led by the French, of course, not by the Germans.
Chancellor Merkel may have something to say on the matter and Le P'tit Nicolas may not get what he really wants: higher popularity ratings in France.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The new Mayor of Moscow

President Medvedev may have been the one to fire the last one (what was his name ... oh yes ... Luzhkov) but it is Prime Minister Putin who appoints the new one and, of course, all that nonsense about elections for local government was abolished some time ago.

Sergei Sobyanin was Vladimir Putin's chief of staff and, for the last three years, the successor-in-waiting to Yury Luzhkov.
Even though Mr Sobyanin's appointment was formally made by Mr Medvedev, he owes his promotion to Mr Putin, the prime minister, who remains the top decision-maker in the country, and who has every reason to be confident in Mr Sobyanin’s personal loyalty. (It was telling that before submitting a list of candidates for the mayor’s office to Mr Medvedev, deputies from United Russia, Russia’s ruling party, publicly consulted their leader, Mr Putin.)
Mr Sobyanin, as the linked article in the Economist explains, has been useful to Mr Putin in the past and, for the time being, his loyalty is assured. What happens in the future is always a little doubtful as far as Russian politics is concerned. He inherits a messy and corrupt situation but there have been no scandals connected with his name. In fact, there have been next to no stories about Mr Sobyanin who managed to keep a tight control on the media when he was regional governor of Tyumen. And so, the last local robber baron is replaced with a bureaucratic representative of the central robber barony.

Where journalists really suffer

From Der Spiegel:
Dozens of Iranian journalists are languishing in prison with scores more having recently fled the country. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime has been aggressive in its pursuit of critics -- and increasingly, foreign journalists are being rounded up as well.
I trust our own hacks will recall this when they once again snivel about not being given a free pass.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

We must, indeed, remember

Raoul Wallenberg was one of the great heroes of the Second World War, a man who selflessly and courageously saved thousands of Jews (particularly Jewish children) in Hungary from an appalling death and one who was eventually kidnapped and, one way or another killed, by the Soviet authorities, with the West doing nothing to help. Indeed, his story is a paradigm of mid-twentieth century history down to the suggestion that the Communist government in Hungary was planning a show trial in 1953 that would tell the tale of Wallenberg being murdered by the Zionists. And you know what? People in the West would have believed it. The idea was abandoned along with many similar ones after the death of Stalin and the fall of Beria.

So I was rather pleased to see an article in the Economist about Wallenberg and the need to remember him and his achievements. I was also pleased to see that another memorial to Wallenberg was unveiled yesterday the anniversary of the Nyilas (Arrowhead - the local Hungarian Nazis) take-over in 1944 on the wall of the building he had used as a sanctuary for Jewish children. Apparently it is now the British embassy, which has a pleasing symmetry. It is impressive that public contribution paid for the memorial. But I do wonder why it is still impossible to point out on it what actually happened (so far as we know) to this man.

There are other memorials to him in Budapest, there is a park, a statue and another plaque on the street that is named after him. But that is irrelevant except that I think the Economist article ought to have mentioned this as well.

What the article does is to use the Wallenberg theme to rant on a bit about its fear of growing right-wing politics in Eastern Europe, particularly Hungary.
In Hungary, like much of Europe, intolerance, racism and xenophobia is on the rise. The far-right Jobbik party, no friend of Hungary’s Jews or Roma minorities, won 16.7 per cent of the vote in April elections, making it the third-largest party in parliament.
We have a problem here. It is called a muddled approach, whether deliberately or otherwise. The Jobbik party is undoubtedly a very unpleasant, openly anti-Semitic and racist party with rather incoherent ideas: on the one hand they want Hungary to take its proud position in the world, on the other hand they want to shut Hungary away from the world. It has a support of around 16 per cent of the electorate.

However, the argument about the intolerance, racism and xenophobia being on the rise (surely that cannot be true while we are all members of the benevolent EU?) rests largely on calling such parties as the Sweden Democrats and Geert Wilders's Freedom Party as being far-right, though their openly expressed concern is with groups of people who arrive in Western Europe and refuse to adjust to its enlightened social and political structures, demanding that these should be abolished.

Today's Financial Times Magazine has a very silly article by Simon Kuper, who is wondering what happened to the Holland he knew that has now become so intolerant and full of nasty murders such as that Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh, which is all, somehow, the fault of all those intolerant people for whom Geert Wilders is a hero. A somewhat muddled and patronizing piece that is unlikely to please anyone. (I seem to be using the word "muddled" a lot.)

Charlemagne in last week's Economist even excelled that, garnering some very serious attacks from readers, I am glad to say. Geert Wilders, then still on trial, is a false prophet, the article opined and was mildly amused that Mr Wilders chose not to speak at a certain point in his trial. And he a champion of free speech. Tee-hee-hee. Clearly, the author had no understanding of what constitutes defence in court and reserving said defence.

Then came the muddled arguments:
Maybe the state should not be in the business of prosecuting politicians for their offensive views. But these are highly charged times in the Netherlands. The threat of murder hangs over the traditionally tolerant country. In 2002 Pim Fortuyn, an earlier anti-immigrant politician, was killed. Two years later so was Theo van Gogh, an anti-Islamist film-maker. Mr Wilders now moves only with a posse of bodyguards, and lives at a secret location.

Even more importantly, he has become the political kingmaker. His party came third in June’s general election, winning 15% of the vote, and will now prop up a minority government of the liberal VVD with the centre-right Christian Democrats. In exchange, Mr Wilders has secured the promise of tighter immigration rules, a ban on some Islamic garb and more money for care of the elderly. Newspapers are calling this the “Wilders 1” government.
The implication is that probably the state should be in the "business of prosecuting politicians for their offensive views" (something that a number of readers took exception to) if the times are, for some unexplained reason, "highly charged". The fact that two people have been murdered rather publicly and several people, including Mr Wilders, are under protection is, according to this argument, a good enough reason for prosecuting Mr Wilders for his opinions. And to think that once upon a time the Economist was, in every sense of the word, a liberal publication.

When it comes to Hungary, the muddle becomes even worse. Fear of the right is routinely extended to FIDESZ, the party that won a two-thirds majority in April, the first time any party managed to do this with Hungary's complicated election procedures. The reason for that is not terribly mysterious: the previous Socialist government was extraordinarily inefficient, corrupt and stupid even by East European standards. To some extent, the Jobbik rode into Parliament on that wave of disaffection, too.

FIDESZ is not an extreme right-wing party but a fairly muddled, vaguely centre-right one. They did flirt with the Jobbik for obvious electoral reasons (no longer necessary) and have announced that all Hungarians wherever they happen to live have a right to Hungarian citizenship, something that is viewed as a provocation to the surrounding countries.

Two days ago Der Spiegel also had a long article about the horrors of growing xenophobia and anti-Semitism in Hungary, particularly in Budapest. It is a curious piece, that starts off by asserting that Jews are being openly intimidated but presenting no evidence; going on to detail a number of disturbing episodes, some true, some not or just threats; interviewing various people but no-one, as one comment puts it, from the main-stream right or even centre-left; and finishing, after several divergences, with an interview with the far-left (which we are not told, this being less important than the fact that he is Jewish) philosopher and politician Gáspár Miklós Tamás, whose view is that Hungary is pretty well finished because the Socialists lost control even of the cities. (In Central Europe cities are traditionally more likely to have Socialist local government than the countryside.)

Somehow, I cannot agree that a completely feckless and dishonest Socialist government losing heavily in a free and fair election necessarily indicates a situation in which there will soon be a need for another Wallenberg.

Cameron will survive this unimportant quasi-rebellion

As I pointed out before I was not overwhelmed by the behaviour of Conservative (or any other) MPs on the question of the EU budget. A lot of pother about very little though, undoubtedly one must honour the 37 Tories and 5 others who did have the gumption to vote for Douglas Carswell's Amendment.

Iain Martin of the Wall Street Journal to whom I have referred before (here and here) is of a different opinion. He is all excited and thinks that David Cameron a.k.a. the Boy-King of the Conservative Party and through some strange historical joke the Prime Minister of this country, must be getting worried.
Occassionaly, when hardly a soul is watching, it is still possible to see something in the Commons that might, just might, suggest interesting developments years hence. “We’re the ipod generation of Euroskeptics,” said one MP. “Younger, more moderate and determined to decontaminate the Euroskeptic brand.”
Just how many years hence and what kind of an idiot makes comments about ipod generations of eurosceptics, hoping to get away with it? Do they have mush for brains? (OK, don't answer that.)

Apparently, a number of those mysterious non-voters who made those astonishingly courageous speeches (yes, I am being sarcastic here) had to leave because of prior engagement. Well, well, well. Is this how a rebellion is to be conducted? By people having prior engagements when the important vote actually rolls around? I suppose Ms Pritti Patel just could not cancel or postpone that engagement, knowing how important this vote was? No, of course not.

Anyway, I agree with Witterings from Witney: this will give Cameron no headache, not even a twinge.
Iain Martin's supposition that the Conservative Eurosceptic MPs may bring down the Coalition has a touch of 'pie in the sky' about it - especially when accepting that Cameron has more iron in his grip on his party than he has in his guarantees! Which probably accounts for the fact that Conservative Eurosceptic MPs seem able to 'talk the talk' but unable to 'walk the walk'.
For once, I even agree with Roger Helmer who wrote before this vote that the Cleggeron Coalition has lost the plot as far as the EU is concerned. Nothing that happened in the last couple of days has disproved that.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Not guilty!

Through the Corner on the National Review website to Dutch
The public prosecution department on Friday afternoon stated that Geert Wilders is not guilty of discriminating against Muslims. Earlier on Friday it announced he should also be found not guilty of inciting hatred.

Prosecutors Birgit van Roessel and Paul Velleman reached their conclusions after a careful reading of interviews with and articles by the anti-Islam politician and a viewing of his anti-Koran film Fitna.
Why they could not have done that careful reading and viewing before, instead of trying to ban the film, I cannot imagine. Then again, Geert Wilders has acquired a great deal of political clout recently and, just possibly, this has been noticed.

Of course, he will still have to have round the clock protection as his life is still in danger.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

It's the way you tell 'em

A glass half full or half empty? Half full says ConHome, definitely. Tim Montgomerie is excited, poor chap, by the fact that 37 Conservative MPs (thirty-seven!) defied the Whip and voted for Douglas Carswell's Amendment yesterday to reduce contributions to the EU at a time when everybody is tightening belts. Well, goody-goody.

On the other hand 12 MPs who also signed the Amendment decided for whatever reason not to vote for it. (I must admit I am a little surprised at Philip Davies.)

The really joyous news as far as ConHome is concerned is that
The overall debate was a festival of Euroscepticism with particularly strong contributions from younger, newer Tory MPs. One got the sense that the baton of opposition to the European superstate was passing to a new generation. Priti Patel, in particular, was on great form.
Ms Patel, I may add, was also one of the MPs who, having signed the amendment, did not bother to vote for it. Justine Greening, who apparently made some "robust" statements, did not bother to vote for the amendment. But then, she is on the front bench, not that she was particularly courageous when she had no official position.

As a matter of fact, I was rather impressed by Gisela Stuart's intervention:
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. She says that this debate demonstrates the importance that the Government attach to giving the House a say. Can she tell us whether a vote on the matter, either way, would make the slightest bit of difference?
Indeed. And the answer from the "robust" Ms Greening?
The hon. Lady is assuming that those Members who have tabled amendments will press them to a vote. Perhaps she is prejudging the outcome of the debate. We welcome the debate because, tomorrow, I shall be in Brussels pressing our case in respect of the European Union budget, and it is vital that we are able to say that we have scrutinised the document thoroughly in our European Parliament.
In our "European" Parliament? A Freudian slip, perchance? And, in any case, scrutinizing it, however thoroughly, and I doubt very much that any MP even looked at it, is not the same as making a difference.

So, exactly, how is this good news from a eurosceptic point of view?

Here is the debate in full. And here is the vote (you have to scroll down a bit).

It needs to be said

Of course, we are all rejoicing with the people of Chile, the miners and their families and extolling the achievement of their engineers (with a little help, gratefully accepted, from other countries. A truly wonderful news and, I have to admit, enthralling TV, which I stayed up far too late to watch.

Let us not forget, though, that, as Daniel Henninger says, 25 years ago they would have been dead. They have been saved by innovation made possible by free-market capitalism. That is the truth and amidst the rejoicing we need to say it over and over again.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

AV or not AV

My, my, how times have changed. AV used to mean Authorized Version, the glorious King James Bible, the only good thing ever produced by a committee though they did have the advantage of living at a time when the English language was at its most beautiful. Oh dear, I digress.

AV now means Alternative Vote and is that funny system that the Cleggeron Coalition is trying to substitute for the present First Past the Post, which has many faults but is, at least, clear and understandable.

Alternative Vote, on the other hand, is completely incomprehensible and, as a recent paper by Policy Exchange shows, not particularly better on the various counts, such as fairness and proportionality that opponents of FPTP have been campaigning for. It is also the funny system that produced that very strange result in Australia not so long ago.

So far this blog has kept out of the discussions (such as they are) apart from the odd snide comment because it seemed completely unimportant how we elect our powerless politicians while they can do nothing but implement EU legislation. However, this evening I attended a discussion of the whole issue with various arguments presented for and against; it occurred to me that it might be a good thing to have some kind of a working constitutional structure albeit one that needs reforming in various ways or restoring to previous versions for when we are rid of the European incubus.

However, the first thing to note about AV is that it is not popular in the world and is not one that anyone in this country wants or has argued for. It was not mentioned in any electoral manifesto, not even that of the Lib-Dims. The idea just suddenly appeared. The Cleggeron Coalition decided that they would push legislation through Parliament, using up badly needed parliamentary time to have a referendum on the AV system. After that, badly needed time and, especially, badly needed money will be wasted on campaigning and the actual referendum. On past experience it might have to be re-run if the result is not quite what the government wants though we don't actually know what this brokeback government does want.

On top of that the referendum, assuming the legislation goes through in time, will be held at the same time as some but not all local elections are held as well as those for the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies. This sort of thing should not happen - referendums should not be mixed up with elections as that makes campaigning and reporting well-nigh impossible. Turn-out is likely to be very patchy because some places will not have any other elections. London is one of them and that is a lot of voters.

So what are the arguments for AV? I listened to them this evening and they are as follows:

1. It is better than FPTP in various unspecified way mainly because FPTP has many faults. (Those faults are undeniably true but there is no evidence whatsoever that AV of all systems will correct them.)

2. Single member constituencies elected by FPTP have been the norm in Britain only since the 1880s, introduced mainly because the newly formed parties found it hard to control their members and electorate any other way. (That is an acceptable argument in general. What we have now is not written in tablets of stone and can be changed. But AV is not necessarily the way we want to change it. Perhaps a return to multiple members or an introduction of real primaries rather than the farce of the Conservative ones might be thought about.)

3. We must move away from FPTP and even though AV is not what we want it is a step forward in the way granting women over 30 suffrage was a step towards equality in voting. (This is complete nonsense. Widening the suffrage to women over 30 after the First World War was a step in a clearly defined direction as is every step in the widening of suffrage from the Second Reform Bill onwards. AV is not a transitional step between FPTP and complete PR but a step into a completely different direction.)

4. We must move away from FPTP and let AV fail so we can move on to what we really want which is proportional representation of some kind as there are many varieties. (Another non sequitur. In the first place, what on earth makes these people think that AV will be considered a failure by those who have a vested interest in keeping it. We lose FPTP and acquire a system nobody wants, nobody likes, which is going to be a complete failure and we shall be stuck with it.)

5. We must move away from FPTP and vote in AV in order to change it eventually to PR. (That's going to play well. Why don't you vote for this so in a few years we can change it all to something completely different that you did not vote for and might not want? I wonder why this sounds so familiar?)

Thus, I remain unconvinced that there are any merits in AV at all. In any case, what does it matter how exactly the chairs are arranged on the deck of the Titanic?

Partial victory

I still have not caught up quite with developments in various EU member states such as the Netherlands, Sweden and France (where public sector strikes over pension reforms are in their second day). However, it is good to be able to report that there is a partial victory in the Geert Wilders case.

Through Atlas Shrugged I have found the Radio Netherlands report that informs us of the Dutch Public Prosecutors dropping the charge group defamation.
Public prosecutors Birgit van Roessel and Paul Velleman now say his comments on the Qur’an referred to Islam and its holy book, and not to Muslim people.

In explaining their call for acquittal on the defamation charges, the prosecutors also explained that statements contained in the MP’s film, Fitna, referred to Islam as a religion and not to its followers. Even though the statements could hurt the feelings of Muslims, that was not the same as defamation of the group.
On Friday we shall see whether the charge of inciting hatred and discrimination (in effect exercising free speech as Ayaan Hirsi Ali explains in her article in the Wall Street Journal) will be pressed.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I suppose I had better say something ...

... about the Andrew Marr fracas. On the whole, my attitude to Marr and his entire family that includes the guinea pig Mr Snuffles, in whose name he used to write columns (perhaps still does) has been complete indifference. He has erupted into all our lives by his intemperate and really rather stupid comments about bloggers. No doubt he thinks it is immensely courageous for a BBC hack to attack those who are on the outside as he sees it.

All sorts of bloggers have replied and commented on their blogs, on Facebook and other suchlike outlets and on the actual article. The Boss over on EUReferendum did so in his inimitable fashion and I did rather like Devil's Knife's, as he is known now, scurrilous attack.

As for me, I agree with Glenn Reynolds: a picture is worth a thousand words. I shall not insult my readers by reproducing it here.

Furthermore ...

Further to this idea that "Europe" does not matter: if the deficit is, indeed, the most important problem why is the Cleggeron Coalition intending to tie up Parliament and the country in an unwanted, unneeded and completely unnecessary constitutional reform proposal, whose aims are to keep themselves in government (though not in power) for a good many years and to ensure that they are even less accountable to Parliament than before?

La Stupenda RIP

The great Joan Sutherland, who died a few days ago, singing Casta Diva from Bellini's Norma:

And in a very different mood, in Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment

Here is a typically Australian take on the story. Dame Joan would have enjoyed it, I suspect.

Here we go again (and again)

One would like to think that the myth of Conservative euroscepticism was killed some time ago but it appears to be a latter-day hydra. For every head that is cut off nine more appear in the shape of bloggers, commentators and activists who assure us, the rest of the world, that the party has become, if anything, more eurosceptic. So why cannot we see it? Well, Cameron and Co will not listen to them. Really? Why is that? All the fault of the Lib-Dims. He has to be nice to the Cleggeron Coalition partners. That begs a question or two, such as why should the Boy-King go for a coalition with the electorally unsuccessful Lib-Dims instead of forming an all-Conservative and, if we are to believe the bleaters, eurosceptic minority government.

Iain Martin, Deputy Editor of the Wall Street Journal Europe, has written before about the "strange death" of Conservative euroscepticism, to which this blog replied by pointing out that in order to die one has to be born first.

He is at it again and so are the excitable ToryBoys. His clog blog posting today is all about the Tory dog that didn't bark over Europe. Well, if you have a cardboard cut out dog it will not bark not if it were ever so.

To be fair to Mr Martin he has understood the Tory leadership and, indeed, the party.
Euroscepticism, a strand of thinking that once divided the Tory party and which it was predicted would cause David Cameron trouble in government, has all but disappeared from view. In Birmingham, at their annual gathering, it was barely mentioned. A couple of weeks ago, at the start of the party conference season, I wrote a column for the paper on the “Strange Death of Tory Euroscepticism”.

Ask senior Conservatives about all this and they point to the coalition with the Liberal Democrats–enthusiasts for integration. It necessitates compromise.

But that is talk designed to make Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg feel good. Mr. Cameron had decided long before he failed to win an overall majority at the general election that he was not going to die in a ditch over Europe. He prepared accordingly, removing his commitment to a referendum on the Lisbon treaty on the grounds that it was too late and would look ridiculous.

Mr. Cameron also put in a lot of effort into wooing Ms. Merkel and Mr. Sarkozy ahead of the election, reassuring them that he would be a good member of the European leaders’ club. This work has continued since he took office.

He is aided by having William Hague at the Foreign Office. One of the most enduring myths of public life in Britain is that of Hague as Euroskeptic. He was once so minded, when he lost the 2001 election heavily pledging to “Save the Pound”. Since then he has kept the reputation while moving steadily onto mainstream establishment territory. As a fellow Conservative puts it: “William has a couple of years ahead of him doing an agreeable job, and then a lifetime of book signings and profitable speech-making afterwards. He’s not going to do anything confrontational that puts all that at risk.”
Mr Martin thinks that Mr Cameron (he clearly rates Mr Hague about as highly as this blog does, though the chances of Mr Hague having an agreeable couple of years are slim) wants to concentrate on reducing the deficit and does not want to be distracted by arguments about "Europe". If the Boy-King really believes that he can separate the two he is stupider even than I have always believed.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


I spent the day in Oxford (well, I spent well over an hour waiting for the Oxford Tube but that is a separate issue) picking grapes in a friend's garden.

This has been an excellent year for them and we picked a great deal with plenty more left on the vine. Now I have to decide what I am going to do with them. Treading them in the bath does not appeal and the resultant liquid is likely to be undrinkable.

Cut spending? Surely not

Apparently, it can be done if we are to believe Dan Mitchell of Cato Institute in this excellent video.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

More on the Nobel Peace Prize

Glenn Reynolds links to a story about Liu Xiaobo's wife, the Chinese police and quotes some comments about Thomas Friedman's desire to see a Chinese political system in the United States. Two excellent sentences to be quoted:
Just because they sold you an iPhone doesn’t mean they’re for freedom.
And about Thomas Friedman:
They’re above criticism so long as he holds the Walter Duranty Chair at the NYT.
Love the idea of a Walter Duranty Chair at the NYT.

Meanwhile, Liu Xiabo's wife seems to have disappeared while the Chinese authorities, having denounced the prize, have lapsed into official silence.

Friday, October 8, 2010

So accurate

Eamonn Butler's e-mails from and on the activity of the Adam Smith Institute are always a joy to read. I strongly recommend that people should subscribe to them. Today he quoted Adam Smith from Book II, Chapter III of The Wealth of Nations:
Great nations are never impoverished by private, though they sometimes are by public prodigality and misconduct. The whole, or almost the whole public revenue, is in most countries employed in maintaining unproductive hands.
That, of course, is the answer to all those who are weeping at the suggestion of the slightest cuts in the public sector. That is all we have had so far: suggestions and a great deal of waffle about "fairness". But then, Adam Smith would have included politicians among the unproductive hands.


Nobel Peace Prize goes to Chinese dissident and not to somebody who regularly disses the United States and the West. Wow! Man bites dog. Mind you, I am not sure what it has to do with peace though, I suppose, if China were a democracy of some kind, it would be less likely to be a threat to its neighbours and its own people. I still think it should have gone to the USMC but this is not too bad.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


First off, there is the Nobel Prize for Literature. It must have been Latin America's turn as Mario Vargas Llosa won it. Although the Washington Post is a bit sniffy about the man, he is, in fact, extremely well known. Whether either he or the impeccably left-wing Gabriel Garcia Marquez are widely read remains questionable but that is not quite why literature prizes are awarded. (Come to think of it, nobody quite knows why they are awarded.)

The surprising thing about Vargas Llosa is that he is well known to be a liberal (in the real sense of the word) in politics and economics. In other words, he is the precise opposite of the sort of person who usually gets the non-scientific prizes though there have been break-throughs here and there.

As the BBC reports
The Swedish Academy hailed "his cartography of structures of power" and "trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt, and defeat."
Looks like none of them have read his novels either. I did try once but got nowhere but then I did not like Marquez either. There is, I note, very little mention of Mr Vargas Llosa's political stance.

Reason Magazine is far more informative:
The author of over 30 books - and very nearly the president of Peru - Vargas Llosa is one of the preeminent public intellectuals of the post-war era and one of the great libertarian heroes of the age at least since his highly public criticism of the Castro regime starting in the early 1970s. An outspoken critic of authoritarian regimes on the right and the left, who else but Vargas Llosa would have called for the legalization of drugs while addressing the American Enterprise Institute's annual dinner a few years back? He has been a consistent voice against repression wherever he finds it and an eloquent champion of freedom in all its manifestations. His insistence that all aspects of liberty - political, economic, and cultural - are inextricably linked is as powerful as it is rare among writers of his stature.
Certainly not Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose views on Castro's Cuba are very different from those of Mario Vargas Llosa.

Meanwhile, a scandal is brewing about one of the scientific Nobel Prizes. The Physics Prize was awarded to two Russian-born scientists, now at the University of Manchester, Andre Geim, who has also won the IgNobel Prize in the past and Konstantin Novoselov. Incidentally, it ought to be pointed out that if the Cleggeron Coalition's plans to cap the only kind of immigration they can deal with, people like Novoselov will not be allowed into this country. Geim seems to be a Dutch national now. (Others have noticed this strange anomaly as well.)

However, there is a most absurd scandal brewing as another Russian scientist who is in Moscow has announced that the wrong people got the prize. He, Victor Petrik, should have been awarded and not these johnny-come-latelies. This could be fun.

Enough of all this. The really interesting prize was awarded yesterday in London at the Frontline Club. The Anna Politkovskaya prize, created in honour of the fearless Russian journalist, murdered four years ago, whose friend Natalya Estemirova, also a recipient, was subsequently murdered, was awarded to Halima Bashir, a Sudanese doctor who had written about atrocities committed in Darfur by the Sudanese militias in her book Tears of the Desert.

Catching up - 1

Not only did I take time out from blogging, I also managed to return to the need for some sort of comment about the party formerly known as Conservative. But one cannot just go around having fun all the time.

In the meantime, Latvia had an election in which the Unity Party Alliance under the Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis retained its leading position despite the fact that various austerity measures had been introduced.

The Baltic Review reports on the 5th that a coalition partner is needed and speculates
whether instead of working with a centre-right coalition as he has done so far he is considering a cooperation with the Harmony Centre party representing Latvia’s Russian-speaking minority
One wonders why that should be so, as the previous coalition seems to have been fairly successful and the Harmony Centre party is not precisely popular. I hope the Latvian Prime Minister is not about to take a leaf out of our own Boy-King's book.

Don't believe me?

Here is the IEA blogger, Richard Wellings, pointing out the extent of collectivism that the Boy-King spouted in his speech. However he sees the future, the role of the government, in his mind, is as large as ever, acquiring ever greater moral dimensions. Not a happy thought.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Easily pleased

Attendees of party conferences are like little children at a birthday party. As long as all the right words are said, they are happy. I shall fisk Hague's speech later on but, at present, I need to allude only to the same old rubbish courageous statement about the EU.

It seems that the EU "has many faults". No kidding. The party faithful were delighted by that extraordinarily courageous statement. Gosh, how brave. Shows that the coalition government and its Foreign Secretary will stand up for British interests. The fact that so far they have done nothing of the kind seems to have escaped their attention.

Then we got the usual verbiage about locking a referendum into place for any future major transfer of power.
The sovereignty clause will be inserted into the forthcoming EU bill, which will also provide a 'referendum lock' requiring a public vote before more powers are transferred from London to Brussels.

"A sovereignty clause on EU law will place on the statute book this eternal truth: what a sovereign parliament can do, a sovereign parliament can also undo," Mr Hague said, to applause.

"It will not alter the existing order in relation to EU law. But it will put the matter beyond speculation."
Indeed. Please pay attention. There will be no referendum on EU membership and all that has already been agreed on will be handed over without the slightest peep coming out of the Cleggeron Coalition and its benighted Foreign Secretary. Really worth applauding

Fair is fair, or not

It was not my intention to return to the blog with a discussion of the Conservative Party Conference. (My absence was due to nothing more serious than a reluctance to go on the internet for several days. One gets these, possibly mistaken, notions that one must read books and have a life.) But this morning I heard the beginnings of the 10 o'clock news summary on Radio 4 after Neil McGregor's discussion of a Native American map of around 1775 in his series A History of the World in 100 Objects.

I did hear the various proposals of cutting child benefits for high earners and the problems in calculation that it is causing already, despite being merely part of a speech at the party conference, as well as one or two other cut-backs in welfare. I managed to note that a number of Conservatives are uneasy about the whole subject (one always expects cuts to hit other people) and a few ToryBoys getting their .... well, never mind. Let's just say they are drooling over the man some call George Awesome. (You really do have to be a sad person to think that.)

Of course, shouts the latter group excitedly, it is so brave to challenge your own supporters. With respect, I see nothing terribly brave about it as Georgie-Porgie and the Boy-King view the situation. They have done nothing but challenge their supporters ever since the Boy-King has been crowned because they do not like their core supporters. Their inability to win an unlosable election has taught them nothing: they still think that these people have nowhere to go.

In principle, there is nothing wrong with cutting back welfare pay-outs to people who are well-off and, one might argue, that cut-backs have to start somewhere. However, from where I am sitting this looks like cowardice. Sooner or later those public sector unions will have to be tackled and that will be a good deal more painful than having another go at the "well-off". The welfare dependency culture will have to be tackled (possibly that is what Iain Duncan Smith's still rather vaguely known plan is about) and that, too, is going to be painful and difficult. One cannot help feeling that the evil day is being postponed, perhaps till there is a real Conservative government but that seems ever less likely.

What caught my attention this morning is the BBC announcement that Cameron was going to talk about the need for people with "broad shoulders" to take more of the burden and what "fairness" was all about. I am not going to listen to the speech as my days of listening to political speeches are long gone. If someone pays me for it, fine. Otherwise, not on your life.

I do, however, wonder about the concept of "fairness" as defined by politicians. In fact, it is quite apparent to me that once politicians start talking about "fairness" it is time to take to the hills, which is what quite a few people will do, especially those at whose expense this "fairness" is being proposed.

It seems to me that the Boy-King sees the money that is to be distributed in welfare as something that just exists or happens for him and his little friends to play with. He can, therefore, decide whether it is fair to give so much to somebody who earns more and so much to somebody who earns less. It has to be "fair", you see, and "fairness" is something that only people at the to can decide on. If this sounds familiar then so be it.

What neither the Boy-King nor his little friends seem to be able to grasp is that money is earned or made. The people who, he thinks, should bear a greater burden, are already doing so: they are the ones who pay into the pot most of what is in it. It is their money or, rather, our money that the government plays around with and decides to distribute in a "fair" way.

It has been said for some time that there is a kind of an unspoken contract between the vast middle class and the government. The former will contribute the funds that the latter can redistribute but will, in return, get some benefits. If those benefits disappear either because there is not enough money or because it is "unfair" will the vast middle class continue to contribute such a huge amount in tax and leave ever less spending money for itself? Has the Boy-King considered that it would be much fairer to start removing the state from various aspects of our lives, reducing taxes in order that people of all income should be able to run their own affairs, create more wealth and more jobs? No, I don't suppose he has. After all, those ideas are not "fair".

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Half-right, anyway

It is difficult to know what to make of Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, the ubiquitous Muslim journalist, writer, pundit who is also a fairly ubiquitous left-wing journalist, writer and pundit. Most of the time she spouts predictable left-wing rubbish ideas and has expressed the view that Boris Johnson winning the mayoral election was the equivalent of a coup in City Hall. She has also been known to spout rubbish about the fear that the Muslim community allegedly lives with in this country as they are all targeted by the secret police or whatever.

Yet she has written consistently and at some risk to herself about the lamentable position of women in Muslim communities, has opposed the burqua and has expressed great anger at our own Taliban putting pressure on parents and schools to deprive children of music and the arts in general.

The reason I started musing about the lady is because I actually heard her address a rather motley audience at Leighton House, the splendid museum that had been Lord Leighton's home in West London today. It was the opening of the Nour Festival of Arts that is designed to showcase (or so they say) modern Arab and Middle Eastern art and culture. Given Lord Leighton's interest in his own version of the Near East, his collection of artefacts, his paintings and certain aspects of the house, this is actually entirely suitable. The old boy would have been rather pleased. (The Arab Hall above is one of the great attractions.)

Ms Alibhai Brown spoke precisely for the five minutes allotted to her, which impressed me enormously, used as I am to the endless wafflings of politicians. The first part of her short address was dedicated to the subject of the article I mentioned above: the terrible perversion of Islam that rejects the idea of music, art, beauty, any sensuality. It is not what she remembers from her childhood in East Africa and, I must add, it is not what one gathers from descriptions made by travellers to the Mughal, Ottoman or Persian Empires. Quite the opposite: these places were seen by Westerners as the homes of unimaginable richness of senses, be that smell, taste or music. For a Muslim woman to attack the Taliban, whether the one in Afghanistan or nearer home can be dangerous. One has to admire her for doing this.

Then she went into her know-nothing left-wing mode. She talked of her surprise that she obviously thought we should share that a "toff" like Lord Leighton, one of Boris Johnson's class as she helpfully explained, should be so interested and involved with the East.

He was not exactly a "toff" having been born into a middle class business family and receiving a peerage (the first given to an artist) for his achievements. Furthermore, if Ms Alibhai-Brown really is going to write that book about Exotic England she had better find out a little more about the number of English people, toffs and others, who travelled to the Near East, studied it, wrote about it, even painted it. As a matter of fact, Lord Leighton was not really one of them. He does not seem to have gone further east than Italy.

As it happens, Ms Alibhai-Brown expressed herself pleased and excited by the thought that there were all these various links between England and Muslim cultures so why she should get so many things wrong in a few sentences is a mystery.

But there is one thing she does not like, as she told us, and that is colonization, which did terrible things to "us", well the colonized. Odd then, that she did not mention another aspect of Muslim culture in East Africa and that is the great slave empires of Zanzibar and Sudan. No, since you ask, the slave traders were not British or even Europeans.

Before we go any further ...

... here is another clip from the Dean Martin Show. Dean with the Duke (John Wayne for those too young to remember) and A. N. Other.

So farewell then ...

... Moscow Mayor Luzhkov though his retirement (if he stays in it) will be sweetened by the amount of money he and his wife managed to make from dodgy contracts in Moscow.

Professor Timothy Coldon, a member of the somewhat controversial Valdai Club, thinks this is about power struggle between central power and overmighty regional rulers. I am inclined to agree with him.

Friday, October 1, 2010

No, I fear this is not the right way either

One of the least likely stories about the young Vladimir Ulyanov (later to be known as Lenin) is that when he, at the age of 17, heard of the execution of his older brother Alexander for the attempted assassination of the Tsar, said "Мы пойдём иным путём" ("We shall take another road"), thus signifying his early understanding of the need for a class revolution as opposed to mere assassination.

There are many things wrong with that tale, dutifully learnt and repeated by every school child within the Communist system, not least the problem of the recipient of the confidence. Lenin's father was dead, his mother in St Petersburg hoping to intercede for her son, his older sister Anna in prison for her marginal involvement in the conspiracy. Possibly he said it to the servants or his younger siblings.

It is, nevertheless, a good story and one I recall every so often, particularly when faced with yet another book, speaker, organization or think-tank that promises to produce ideas for reforming the European Union and setting it on a different path.

Unlike the Boss of EUReferendum I try not to attack a new venture before going to the launch and chatting to people there. Afterwards it is a different tale. So, I went to the launch of New Direction yesterday, held rather grandly (well, it is the Toy Parliament's money, after all) in the Chartered Accountants' Hall in the City.

My intention was to listen to the presentations and ask a few straightforward questions. Well, one would have done. However, once I realized that the guest of honour was going to be Lady Thatcher I knew there would be no questions, let alone answers. She did not speak but spent some time chatting to her admirers and being photographed with them and by them. So, no blame can be attached to her.

I do, however, think that if you are in the business of trying to convince or convert people Liam Fox may not be the best choice for main speaker. Not to put too fine a point on it, the man is dull and verbose. He droned on and on, mentioning that this was "new thinking" and "new ideas" and "new directions" in every sentence. (Well, in every sentence I actually managed to listen to. Someone else told me he switched off after the first two so I did better.) Apparently Europe needs to change directions if it wants to remain of any importance in the globalized world; also we must remember that the best way forward is through national sovereign states so the trend towards integration and centralization must stop; furthermore Europe must spend more on defence if it wants to count in the world (no, don't bother to work that one out); in short, we cannot go on like this and we need new ideas, which, fortunately are going to be provided by the new think-tank which is (as they dutifully point out on their website) largely funded by the Toy Parliament. It was quite a relief when he finished, especially as it was not possible to ask the obvious question: Well, what are you going to DO about it all, Mr Fox?

We had already been informed by Mr Geoffrey Van Orden, President of New Direction that what we needed was fresh thinking and new ideas and wasn't it terrible how much money we had to pay over to the European Union. Anyone would think that if we paid over less the whole idea would become more acceptable. Also, Mr Van Orden informed us, the European Parliament is going to cost more in the coming year than at any time before. Well, I have an answer to that but I doubt if Mr Van Orden will like it.

There is a list of research topics that the New Direction will take on. There is one missing: an analysis of how the European Union is structured and how it legislates. Were they to understand that they might just begin to work out that no amount of so-called new ideas will reform this sclerotic organization. Nor will its direction change just because Mr Van Orden or Mr Fox or Mr Shane Frith says that it would be a good idea.

Мы пойдём иным путём.

Well, that's that then

Osama bin Laden (if he is still alive that is) has expressed his concern with global warming, climate change, natural disasters and suchlike matters. All the West's fault, of course, but I'd say this really is the death-knell for the AGW tyranny. I wonder what this people will come up with next.