Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Reading matter

I have been reading two hefty volumes in tandem (apart from boring EU and Parliamentary material and variable detective stories). One is Anne Applebaum's Iron Curtain, a highly informative account of the bloody aftermath of World War II in Eastern Europe and the equally bloody Soviet and Communist attempt to turn those countries into totalitarian states. The other one is Thomas Penn's Winter King, an equally informative account of how after a century of bloody civil war the first Tudor King attempted in a bloody fashion to impose the nearest to a totalitarian structure he could create given the technology of the period on England. Methinks there is a pattern here. Perhaps I should get out more.

About that Peace Prize

As readers of this blog know, I tend to dissolve into hysterical laughter whenever the Nobel Peace Prize is mentioned. Until they give it to the US Marine Corps for bringing more peace and freedom to more places than there are countries in the UN, the whole thing will remain a joke. Nevertheless, it was a particularly joyous occasion when the EU, that corrupt and undemocratic organization got it for keeping the peace and promoting democratic values and freedom. (Oh dear, I am sorry, you will have to wait till I stop laughing.)

David Hughes, who is the Daily Telegraph's chief leader writer, is not happy with the whole concept of freedom in the EU. Specifically, he is worried about freedom in Greece. Well, press freedom. No journo ever worries about any other kind but, I suppose, even worrying about press freedom shows that his heart is in the right place.
The silence from Brussels is deafening. In Athens a Greek newspaper editor, Costas Vaxevanis, faces imprisonment for printing a list of prominent Greeks who have squirrelled away their fortunes in Swiss bank accounts to evade taxes. He could spend two years in prison if convicted. This assault on the freedom of the press exposes the deep fissures in Greek society – between a moneyed elite who ruthlessly game the system for their own ends, and the hoi-polloi who are bearing the brunt of austerity measures.
The Greek press is rallying round but the EU is doing nothing.

What exactly is the EU supposed to do? Send in the marines? That would be the Royal Marines and I cannot see such a move being particularly popular or effective, though I have the highest possible regard for that fine body of men and, I believe, nowadays women. Maybe they could share that Peace Prize.

Of course, it can make a stiff pronouncement but does the EU believe in democratic freedoms all that much? The EU, after all, thinks that  a referendum that is comes out with the wrong results should simply be run again (and, presumably, again) to get the right result.

Besides, we know what would happen if the EU or some part of it did intervene. We would get the usual "Nazi invasion" screams from all sides, especially from the Golden Dawn, whose spokesman, according to this account, read out, approvingly, from the Protocol of the Elders of Zion.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

No question about it ...

... the live coverage of the hurricane is much better on Reuters than on the BBC. I am really pleased to be able to say that.

In other news; Gallup reports as John Nolte tells us on Breitbart, that among early voters Romney is up 52 - 45 per cent. I am cautiously optimistic though I know people who are considerably more optimistic.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Why, asks Douglas Murray ...

... are politicians forced to resign over trivia but never over serious matters. His example is Andrew Mitchell who resigned over alleged rudeness to the Downing Street coppers whereas he ought to have been forced out over his performance at DfID where he agreed to use UK taxpayers' money to pay terrorist leaders' salaries.
A report by Palestinian Media Watch recently revealed that British taxpayers have been paying salaries to terrorists. It revealed that £3 million every month is paid by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in salaries to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. The salaries come from the PA's general budget. That "general budget" is kindly provided by the U.K., among other EU countries.
Many British taxpayers, struggling to pay their family's way through a recession, might rightly wonder why their money is going to pay as much as £2,000 a month to people serving the longest sentences—those who have targeted Israeli buses and other civilian targets with suicide bombers, for instance. That is higher than the average wage in nearly all of Britain. You might be forgiven for wondering, if you were a struggling teaching assistant in the North of England, why failing to tick "suicide bomber" on your careers form should have left you so much worse off than a terrorist in the Middle East.
This is not new, of course, and, despite denials or pleas of ignorance by Alan Duncan, Mitchell's successor it goes on. The lunacy of cutting defence spending and eviscerating our armed forces while paying out money to terrorists who are itching to attack us and our allies is self-evident.

It is, perhaps, time to restart a campaign for the cessation of all international aid.

Physician heal thyself?

This is actually quite funny and both stories come from the ultra europhiliac (unashamedly so, unlike some other organizations I can think of) EU Business.

As people who have been following news from the EU know, the rather ridiculous plan to make a forty per cent quota for women on boards of listed companies mandatory has been shelved for the time being. (I shall be watching comments on this posting carefully and there may well be some banishments for utter stupidity. You have been warned.)

However, the amusing part of it is that the ECB has been hoist by the same petard.
European lawmakers snubbed the EU's leaders on Thursday when they voted down the leading candidate for a key European Central Bank post to protest a lack of women candidates for the job. Recognised on all sides as well qualified, Luxembourg Central Bank head Yves Mersch lost out after a series of sharp exchanges over the representation of women at the top level of European political and business institutions.
Forty per cent. gentlemen?

Some men's deaths diminish us all

John Donne wrote, as we know:
Each man's death diminishes me, For I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know For whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee.
That may be true but some men's deaths diminish us all. Such a man was Jacques Barzun, cultural historian, musicologist, many other things and, above all, one of the great historians of the detective story, whose death  at the astonishing age of 104 has just been announced. But then he continued to write and publish into his nineties and continued to annoy and delight people in equal measure.

I was going to write about his work on the detective story but find that it has been done by The Passing Tramp. The posting is very well worth reading.

RIP Jacques Barzun 1907 - 2012. We shall not look upon his like again.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Last Monday in the House of Lords

Lord Liddle, who, according to Wikipedia is "s principally known for being Special Adviser on European matters to prime minister Tony Blair and President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso" asked a question that makes very little sense until one recalls the noble lord's previous occupation:
To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have for making the case for the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union.
Rum. I thought we have been members of the European Union ever since it existed and were, indeed, signatories to the Maastricht Treaty, which set it up. What can the noble lord mean? If one reads the rest of the exchange it becomes clear that other peers, including the Minister found it hard to understand what on earth Lord Liddle was talking about though, obviously, his purpose was to demand to know why the government why HMG "clear leadership that our membership of the EU is vital to our economy and essential to our place in the world?"

 Later on the Leader of the House repeated the Prime Minister's statement about the European Council and a singularly uninspired one it was, too. So much so, that the debate, usually quite exciting on these occasions, lacked the usual vim. What could one say about a Council, which seems to have come to the conclusion that there is much to be done and much will be done any minute now or, rather, in the near and not so near future but we are going to have a proper time table, any minute now.

Their biggest promised achievement is:
On trade, the Council agreed an ambitious agenda to create 2 million jobs across Europe. This includes completing free trade deals with Canada and Singapore in the coming months, and starting negotiations with the US next year on a comprehensive transatlantic trade and investment agreement. And we made some progress on the launch of negotiations with Japan 'in the coming months'. This deal alone could increase EU GDP by €42 billion.
2 million jobs, eh? Well, that should solve all our problems.

Lord Willoughby de Broke pointed to one interesting problem [scroll down to the end of the debate]:
My Lords, one of the Council conclusions on which I hope the noble Lord can enlighten the House is headed,
"Developing a tax policy for growth".
Is this a tax policy for having higher taxes or lower taxes? Secondly, the same paragraph of the conclusions refers to, "enhanced cooperation to be launched on a Financial Transactions Tax". Was that supported by the British Government?
Well, was it? Hard to tell from the answer:
My Lords, on the first point, we are not in favour of any new taxes emanating from the EU. Secondly, we have not supported a financial transactions tax. We know that certain elements within EU countries have got together and decided to impose a financial transactions tax. I believe that in the long term that will prove to be against their interests.
After all, HMG supports the idea of a banking union, cheerfully pointing out that it will not affect Britain. So, it is reasonable to suppose that they assume that a financial transaction tax will not do so either. And the Porcine Air Force is about to take off.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Why do I even bother?

No, this is not another agonizing self-appraisal about the pros and cons of blogging but a rant about certain organizations. Earlier today I decided to go along to a discussion organized by Open Europe who no longer hide the fact that they think Britain should stay in the EU. The theme was: What is the Coalition's record on Europe so far? I ought to have known better when I saw the title. Really, what kind of a question is that.

So, we had Tobias Ellwood MP for Bournemouth East speaking for the Coalition or, at least the Conservative bit of it. He spent a good deal of time explaining how much this country gets out of the EU, how we always lead from the front (that's the army officer speaking) and why the problem is that most MPs do not like going there and that is why we have less influence than we would otherwise. Oh and he asked if anyone in the room knew about "the yellow card system" (that's the one where nine national parliaments can get together and send back a piece of EU legislation to be reconsidered and has been used successfully once so far). Sadly for him, quite a lot of people in the room knew about it and, I assume, knew what a ridiculous bit of nonsense it is. No, Mr Ellwood, it is not an adequate substitute for legislating for ourselves.

Then we had Chris Leslie, Labour MP for Nottingham East and Shadow Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who told us at slightly shorter length that the problem was that we did not have enough clout in "Europe" because the Conservatives are so against it and because of the "phantom veto". Mind you, no man who uses that expression can be all bad but did he do so at the time?

Finally, we had Baroness Falkner, Lead Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs in the House of Lords, who started her talk with a bad joke and continued by explaining that the two most important events in all our lives except the really aged members of the House of Lords (yes, that's what she said) have been the refusal to enter the eurozone and the refusal to have a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. How old is this woman, I wondered, that she cannot remember anything else of importance. Anyway, apparently, these two events affected our ability to do anything anywhere, let alone in Europe.

As they used to say in the less reputable Sunday newspapers, I made my excuses and left. Why did I even bother?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Not sure this is going to help anyone

On the one hand, the news of two days ago (yes, yes, sorry but life keep interfering with my blogging) of "six scientists and a government official [being]sentenced to six years in prison for manslaughter by an Italian court on Monday for failing to give adequate warning of an earthquake that killed more than 300 people in L'Aquila in 2009" sounds like an excellent precedent for many other events.

Can we gaol the people who get the various financial predictions wrong? Of course, the hacks in the media would be the first to go in that case.

Or the people who predict wrongly the outcome of various EU negotiations? Can we gaol them?

Naturally, all those scientists who have been threatening us with huge destructive heat waves if we did not stop all our activity at once and crawl back into caves should get hefty sentences. After all, did they actually predict the recent fairly harsh winters? Did those who went on and on about the British drought predict the floods we have actually been experiencing? I think not.

Unfortunately, a little bit of thinking makes one realize that this is not such a good idea after all. Undoubtedly, the immediate result will be scientists not giving any opinions or advice at all, in case they get it wrong and end up in gaol. As for the long-term problem: I note that there is only one official in the group and six scientists. To what extent was the problem caused by officials not doing their job and how is not prosecuting them going to prevent future tragedies of this kind?

Watchman, what of that rebellion?

There was, as we recall, a rebellion against the ECHR in the matter of prisoners' vote. The House of Commons definitely voted against giving them that right and the ECHR threatened all manners of punishments. Where do we stand on it now?

As usual, it depends who is your source.

The Independent says that
the coalition is poised to introduce legislation to give prisoners the vote.
According to the Guardian, ministers are preparing to launch a draft bill to comply with a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
According to the same article, government sources say that nothing will be done until the end of November, that is after the somewhat contentious election of police commissioners, predicted to have the lowest turn-out in history.

The BBC puts the story differently:
Prime Minister David Cameron has said Britain will continue to defy a European Court ruling saying prisoners must be given the right to vote.
"No one should be under any doubt - prisoners are not getting the vote under this government," he told MPs.
But he offered a further Commons debate to "help put the legal position".
Is "no one should be under any doubt" the same as a cast-iron guarantee? Also, what is the point of another debate? To explain to MPs that they actually cannot decide such matters for the country, even though, for once they do have the country on their side?

Dominic Grieve, the Attorney-General "warned Britain's reputation would be damaged if it did not follow the European Court ruling" and has also said rather ominously that Britain was negotiating with the Court and that some "flexibility" was needed. Flexibility on whose part, one wonders.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Why hasn't the problem been solved yet?

Tesco has agreed to have "traffic light" labelling on its food, informing idiots their customers which foods are healthier or have less salt or more of whatever happens to be the fashionably good or bad ingredient. I seem to recall this being tried in other stores in the past and then quietly dropped as being too expensive and of no use whatsoever. Apparently, my memory is slightly at fault.
The retailer has for years resisted using the colour-coded system on its products. The on-the-packet traffic light label grades food as red, amber or green depending on how nutritious it is, with red being the most unhealthy.
Instead, Tesco has since 2005 used a ‘guideline daily amounts’ (GDA) system which shows the percentage of salt, sugar and fat in a product but does not involve colours.
However the chain, which has annual sales of £47 billion in the UK, said that following new customer research it will now develop a “hybrid” labeling system incorporating traffic lights and GDA.
The move will bring it in line with rivals Sainsbury’s, Asda and Marks & Spencer who have used hybrid labeling for years.
(Incidentally, why is the Telegraph using American spelling?)

Naturally all the so-called charities, lobbying organizations and quangos who deal with health, diet, obesity and other related matters rushed in there joyfully, acclaiming this latest move against something that does not seem to go away.

Given the number of these organizations and the extent to which food manufacturers and retailers have been bullied into providing perfectly pointless information (knowing how much salt there is in something is one thing, being told how much is red, amber or green is something else) surely by now we should have no disorders, syndromes or illnesses caused by the "wrong" kind of food, let alone obesity.

Monday, October 22, 2012

East of Moscow

The two Pussy Riot members still in prison, Mariya Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova have been sent off to fairly stiff camps, the first to the Perm region, the second to Mordova. A helpful map is provided by the BBC in its story. So far there is no information as to which camps they will be in but they were sentenced to ordinary regime (which is quite bad enough).

Friday, October 19, 2012

A preliminary report

Earlier today the Second Reading of Baroness Cox's Bill was debated and I sat in on part of it. Here is the temporary link to Hansard. As soon as the corrected version of Hansard is up I shall change the link and analyze the debate in greater detail. For the moment, let me just say that Baroness Cox's speech was excellent in the way it defined what the Bill is and is not about; that Lord Singh's contribution was the best among the ones I managed to  hear and that the Bishop of Manchester made me feel that it is high time the Church of England was disestablished so we no longer had to put  up with politician prelates. More later.

Later today

At the House of Lords: Second Reading of Baroness Cox's Arbitration and Mediation (Equality) Bill. The aim is to prevent the Muslim Arbitration Council from becoming full courts that use Sharia law.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Peace in our time

Readers of this blog will recall that the European Union received its Nobel Peace Prize for, among other reasons, bringing peace and prosperity to Southern Europe, after years under authoritarian dictatorship and civil war. Well, how is that shaping up, one wonders.

Two items of news provide some sort of partial information as it is difficult to get a clear picture of what is going on in the country as a whole.

The Daily Mail gives us a story with suitable pictures of young neo-Nazi gangs attacking immigrants, their homes and businesses and daubing swastikas on walls. I presume these are not the same gangs of young people who greeted Chancellor Angela Merkel with jolly Nazi uniforms and pictures of her as Hitler. The Greeks really do have to make up their minds whose victims they are. (Answer: their own and, especially, of their politicians but they do keep electing them.)

Meanwhile, Golden Dawn, which has representatives in Parliament, denies that they are neo-Nazi (all a misunderstanding, guv) but proclaim that they are Greek nationalists who want Greece to be reclaimed by Greeks. That, of course, is a laudable aim but it is not entirely clear how they propose to do it beyond getting rid of all immigrants.

One of the complaints voiced by those attacked by the gangs is that the police proclaim themselves to be too busy to investigate them. Given how often we hear that in this country, I am not sure that is necessarily sinister but the BBC has gone after another story that also demonstrates that there is peace and love and joy across the European Union, even its southernmost members.

There is, according to this, evidence that some of the police are in collusion with Golden Dawn, the anti-immigrant party that uses neo-Nazi symbolism purely for aesthetic reasons. In parenthesis, let me add how odd it is to see the Daily Mail and the BBC going after the same story from the same point of view. They usually do it only if there is something anti-American involved.

It is hard to tell how wide-spread the problem is and whether it is true that Greeks are preparing for a civil war. Golden Dawn undoubtedly has 18 members of Parliament, which indicates electoral success and support. How much of that is protest voting is hard to tell. Given the venality and incompetence of most Greek politicians, protest voting is quite understandable though, for some reason, it did not go to any party with more or less liberal (in the real sense of the word) policies.

That the situation is extraordinarily difficult there one cannot deny; that there seems to be no solution proposed beyond pleas to the EU (or the German government) to lighten the burden is also clear. I don't exactly believe stories of people starving as they are usually produced by organizations who hope to raise money for themselves on the back of those stories. But that there are extremist groups hoping to benefit from the mess is certain. Will that lead to a civil war in the near future? Given modern Greek history, the chances of that are very high.

I suppose they could take this advice from City AM: Greece must stop hitting snooze and wake up to economic reform. Somehow, I don't think they will. Decades of national victimhood are not easy to overcome.

But where is the fourth president?

At the end of Conan Doyle's wonderful story, His Last Bow, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson have trussed up the German spy and are about to take him off to Scotland Yard. World War I is about to break out and Dr Watson is returning to his old unit, the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers (though it is not clear what he will be doing there). Von Bork is protesting that he, a German subject, is being held against his will by two private individuals. 
"Well, you realise your position, you and  your accomplice here. If I were to shout for help as we pass through the village -"
"My dear sir, if you did anything so foolish you would probably enlarge the too limited titles of our village inns by giving us The Dangling Prussian as a sign-post."
In the same spirit though not in the same circumstances I suggest that we start renaming hostelries as The Three Presidents. It seems but fitting in the light of the news that the problem of who will collect that Peace Prize has been solved.

All three Presidents - Barroso of the Commission, Van Rompuy of the Council and Schultz of Parliament - will collect the Prize, presumably trying not to pick each other's pockets when the money is being handed over.
However, it remains unclear who will deliver the speech accepting the award, which normally involves just one speaker. And it is also unclear what will happen to the £740,000 prize money, although it is expected to go to charity.
A charity, eh? I wonder which particular charity or, much more likely, NGO that will go to. One that has already been heavily funded to campaign for more EU regulation of something or other?

Wait a minute. Is there not one President missing? Whatever happened to Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank? Why will he not be present at this auspicious occasion? He could count the money.

ADDENDUM: I gratefully acknowledge an excellent suggestion from a reader of this blog that the three Presidents (The Three Caballeros) should share out all the official languages and repeat the speech of thanks in each one. That should keep them all going for a while.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

John Bolton on the EU

It is no secret that this blog would like to see John Bolton as Secretary of State in a Romney administration. Here is another reason why it would be a good idea: He thinks that the theory behind the European Union is simply wrong. Not that things have gone wrong for some unexplained and inexplicable reason but that it is wrong. That's the sort of Secretary of State we want. Read the whole piece. Well worth it.

Reasonable question - vague answer

Yesterday in the House of Lords (haven't heard from them for a while) Lord Kennedy asked HMG a somewhat disingenuous question:
To ask Her Majesty's Government, in the light of the announcement of price rises by British Gas, what action they will take to protect consumers from rising energy costs.
He got a disingenuous answer that gave notice of some more government spending on various projects and advertising thereof.
My Lords, protecting consumers from rising energy costs is a priority for this Government. Programmes such as the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target, Warm Front, Green Deal and the Energy Company Obligation make or will make homes more energy efficient. The Warm Home discount provides £1.1 billion of support until 2015 and helps around 2 million low-income and vulnerable households. The Government have also instigated the Big Energy Saving Week, to be held the week of 22 October, when there will be up to 400 events across the country providing direct advice on reducing energy bills.
It was Lord Willoughby de Broke's question that interested me:
My Lords, would not the simple way to reduce consumers' electricity costs be to stop paying huge subsidies to wind farms? The cost of those subsidies falls directly on to the consumer, particularly, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, mentioned, those in fuel poverty.
The answer was suitably vague (suitably for HMG, that is):
My Lords, this country needs a mix of different energy sources. Wind happens to be one of them and is carbon free. However, we recognise that we need to look at all sources and the subsidies we are providing to them, and we have taken it upon ourselves to reduce wind subsidies by 10 per cent.
!0 per cent is better than nothing but 100 per cent would be even better.

And again

The writer, journalist and human rights campaigner was murdered in the hallway of her Moscow apartment house in 2006. In 2009 three men were put on trial for the murder and were acquitted, which, as I wrote at the time, was not altogether surprising.
The man who is supposed to have done the actual killing, Rustam Makhmudov, was not on trial as he is supposed to be hiding somewhere in Western Europe. Neither was anybody who was accused of organizing or commissioning the killing.
Makhmudov's two brothers, Dzhabrail and Ibragim, were accused of involvement and found not guilty to their and their supporers' understandably delight. Others found not guilty were former police officer Sergei Khadzhikurbanov and former FSB officer Pavel Ryaguzov who had been up on an extortion charge related to the case.
At the time it seemed unlikely that the case would ever be solved. It still seems a little unlikely but, as RFE/RL reports, five people have now been charged with murder and illegal arms dealing. The names seem oddly familiar:
The Russian Investigation Committee said in an October 16 statement that it "has completed the investigation against five defendants -- brothers Rustam, Ibragim, and Dzhabrail Makhmudov, and Sergei Khadzhikurbanov and Lom-Ali Gaitukayev."
AP gives a few more details:
Russia's Investigative Committee said it has completed a probe of the suspected triggerman, Rustam Makhmudov, and four others. No date for the trial has been set.
Makhmudov's two brothers and a Moscow police officer have already stood trial, charged with helping stage the killing. But a court acquitted them in 2009. Russia's Supreme Court overruled the acquittal and sent the case back to investigators.
Authorities have since arrested Makmudov and his uncle, Lom-Ali Gaitukayev, who is accused of organizing the killing. The Moscow police officer who faced the initial trial, Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, is still in custody, while the two Makhmudov brothers, Dzhabrail and Ibragim, have been ordered to remain in Moscow pending a new trial.
The committee said it will still try to find out who ordered the murder and look for others who might have been involved.
I wonder if they are serious about finding out who ordered the murder. If so, I wish them luck.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Let's finish off what the French Revolution started

That seems to be President Hollande's motto and not in a good way either. He seems to be so determined to introduce égalité that, as so often the case, liberté and even fraternité are left out of his calculations. Perhaps that is because égalité is the easiest of the three to control from the centre and to impose by force.

Thanks to Instapundit we get the story of the latest proposal for educational reform in France where schooling has been on a very high standard until now, despite much of it being run by the state. There is a link to an article on the subject in the Wall Street Journal: "France to Ban Homework. Really".
François Hollande has a bold new plan to tackle social injustice and inequality in France: ban homework. Introducing his proposals for education reform last week at the Sorbonne, the French president declared that work "must be done in the [school] facility rather than in the home if we want to support the children and re-establish equality."
Banning out-of-school assignments would put France on the cutting edge of pedagogical fashion, though it wouldn't be entirely unprecedented. An elementary school in Maryland recently replaced homework with a standing order for 30 minutes a day of after-school reading. A German high school is also test-running a new homework ban, after an earlier reform lengthened the school day and crowded out time for extra-curriculars such as sports or music.
Actually, banning homework is far from cutting edge. That was tried in Britain, certainly for younger children for many years, the argument being exactly the one the French President is using: it is not fair as some children might get help from parents and some might not. The result, as we know, was that generations of children grew up with large sections of them being barely literate or numerate, let alone capable of learning anything more complicated than the three Rs.

Furthermore, it became obvious that with no homework required by the school inequality became even more pronounced as it was now only those children whose parents could and would devote time and energy to educating their offspring who prospered. To some extent, I am glad to say, this practice is now being abandoned across the country but school requirements remain lamentably low.

The article is right in pointing out that substituting more activity at school for homework is not the same as deciding not to have any of either. But then, M. Hollande looks to other matters: school, he pronounced at the Sorbonne, is where the child becomes a citizen of the future. What he would really like, I suppose, is to take the children away from their parents completely and to have them brought up entirely by the state.

This, one can argue, is excellent news for Britain. At least, our undereducated children will no longer have to compete with the French. But, I suspect, the rejoicing (if there is any) will be short-lived. French parents care far more about these matters than, I am sad to say, most British ones do. They will be out in force, demonstrating against government proposals to destroy the French school system.

To cheer us up

It is becoming increasingly difficult to blog about the EU and stay awake at the same time. Anyway, I thought this would cheer everyone up: the majority of Icelanders have now opposed EU membership for more than three years. What is more, they will vote that way, come that referendum that they are constitutionally required to have.

Just a quotation

I can't read the whole of Walter Russell Meade's article with the great title of Peace Out but the summary was sufficiently interesting for me to nod my head in complete agreement.
Every aspiring beauty-pageant queen knows what to say when asked what she wants most: "World peace." World peace is at least nominally what we all want most. But evidently, we are not very good at making it. The modern peace movement is almost 200 years old; its origins can be traced to the period that followed the devastating wars of the Napoleonic era in Europe. In those two centuries, peace movements have had little discernible impact on world events, and what effect they have had has often been bad: the European peace and disarmament movement of the 1930s, for example, greatly facilitated Hitler's plans for a war of revenge. For all the good they have done, those well-intentioned souls who have sought to achieve world peace through the organization of committees, the signing of petitions, the holding of rallies, and the promotion of international treaties might just as well have stayed home...
Curiously enough, the comments are quite sensible, too.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The other contentious Nobel Prize

Der Spiegel, which had no fewer than three articles about the Peace Prize yesterday, one of which wagged an admonitory though sad finger at David Cameron who, apparently, could not find it in him to say something nice about the EU "even now". If that is so, Mr Cameron gets this blog's full support for a change and very temporarily.

The newspaper did some finger-wagging of  its own about the other contentious Nobel Prize, the literature one. Personally, I think that is an even bigger joke than the Peace Prize, though it is awarded to people who have produced something by way of work. Mind you, nobody ever remembers who they are and, in any case, we all know that it is a matter of "buggins's turn", with the Swedish (this time) committee working out which country and which part of the world has not had one of those for a long time. They tend not to give it to a North American, especially not one from the United States despite a plethora of good and widely read writers there, as Philip Roth, for one, has pointed out. Americans do tend to win a very large proportion of the real Nobel Prizes in science but that is because political opinion is less important there and only scientific achievement matters. Unsurprisingly, some young hack at the Grauniad is unable to grasp that.

What Jason Farago does not mention in his headlong desire to prove that he is too sophisticated to read Philip Roth or Alison Munro but knows all about Mo Yan, this year's winner, is that this, too, is a political decision and aimed at being nice to the Chinese government.

As Der Spiegel writes:
After the Swedish Academy announced on Thursday that prolific novelist Mo Yan had become the first Chinese citizen to be awarded the prestigious prize, Beijing was quick to celebrate it as a national triumph. In a letter to the China Writers' Association, to which Mo belongs, the Communist Party's propaganda chief Li Changchun wrote that the award "reflects the prosperity and progress of Chinese literature, as well as the increasing influence of China." 
The historic news was also splashed across Chinese newspapers on Friday in a flurry of national pride -- unlike two years ago when imprisoned democratic activist Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Back then, Beijing spurned the accolade, calling it an affront to the award's tradition. In 2000, Beijing also disowned exiled writer and critic Gao Xingjian, now a French citizen, when he became the only other Chinese winner of the Nobel Prize for literature.
What does this remind me of? Ah yes. In 1958 the great Russian poet and author of Dr Zhivago, not published in the Soviet Union, Boris Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Literature Prize. This signalled the start of a terrifying campaign of vilification against the man in his country. This included "spontaneous" demonstrations that demanded his exile (and it could have been much worse). Pasternak tried refusing the prize and even wrote a letter to Khrushchev explaining what he had done. It did not help. He was submitted to the ordeal of a "trial" by the Writers's Union. The prize remained his though he never collected it.

Seven years later the Committee decided to pacify the Soviet government and awarded the Literature prize to Mikhail Sholokhov, a Soviet hack and ferocious commissar in the literary world, whose one good novel is widely held to have been written by someone else. To be fair, Solzhenitsyn was awarded it in 1970 but the story of Sholokhov was never forgotten. Well, now we have another Sholokhov.

More on Jagland

In my previous posting I mentioned that the Chairman of the Norwegian Peace Prize Committee had an interesting political career. I was then accused of being coy by a regular reader of this blog who also sent me some more information about the man. Now, up with that sort of accusation I will not put. Here is the information sent to me in full:
Apart from a history of general incompetence and sloth, including started but never finished studies in economics, Jagland was a "confidential KGB source" (or as Lenin would have called him, a useful idiot). Internally in KGB he went under the call name "Juri" and was a useful source for political information. According to reports he had also been used as a "channel for active measures", including the question of nuclear free zones in the Nordic countries. These contacts were brought to light by the Soviet defector Mikhail Butkov.
Jagland defended himself that he did not do anything but his normal duties, and though he never reported his contacts to the Norwegian security services, he did report to the people in charge of the Norwegian Labour party. (Hoops!) In the same program on Norwegian television that Butkov and Jagland were discussed, Jens Stoltenberg also was mentioned - another Labour party luminary. Those who follow Norwegian politics may recognise him as the present Norwegian PM.
Quote (my transl): "Jens Stoltenberg's contact with the KGB officer Boris Kirillov led to KGB in 1989 giving him the cover/file name "Steklov". A dossier on Stoltenberg was put together at the Centre in Moscow containing personal and political information. The dossier was of the form DOR (Delo operativnoj razrabotki). These kind of files were usually restricted to people in an advanced state of cultivation, or persons already counted as confidential sources.
Looks like Arne Treholt was not alone - he was just unlucky to get caught.
I am grateful for that information and for being reminded that I should not write lazily.

Friday, October 12, 2012

It's an ill wind ...

The news of the Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to the EU, apart from causing a great deal of entertainment, has also provided the Leader of UKIP with a great deal of publicity. He seems to be the top man to be quoted everywhere, for instance in this headline on AFP: Farage and Redwood condemn EU Nobel Peace Prize. There are many more as a brief consultation with Mr Google will show. (So, can we have no more nonsense about UKIP not getting any media attention, please?)

Glenn Reynolds weighs in on the debate as to what is more embarrassing, awarding that prize to President Obama less than a year after his inauguration or to the EU."AT LEAST WHEN THEY GAVE OBAMA THE PRIZE, HE HADN’T FAILED YET." Hadn't thought of it in those terms but he is right.

Frida Ghitis argues that the Committee lost an excellent opportunity to show that it really believes in peace and freedom. True, but hardly for the first time though, possibly, Ms Ghitis did not notice it before. Or, maybe, she mentions this every year.

Kristian Berg Harpviken, the Director of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, was interviewed on the subject and sounded a little bemused, not to say irritated. He also pointed to an important aspect:
It's a bit different, though, in Norway and internationally. In Norway, this decision is deemed to stir considerable controversy, precisely because the issue of EU membership is so controversial in Norway, and many critics here see this already as the politicians on the Nobel Committee trying to use their platform there to affect Norwegian domestic politics.
In fact, Norway has voted twice to stay out of the EU but it is well known that Thorbjørn Jagland, the Chairman of the Peace Prize Committee and a man with an "interesting" political career, would like to see the question reopened and Norway vote the right way at last.

The all-important question remains: which president will go to Oslo to collect the prize? The secondary question is what will happen to the money? I suppose it could be thrown into the general melting pot of debt and default.


Readers of this blog would have guessed what that title is about. Yes, indeed, it is the news this morning that the European Union, enmired in economic problems, riots in various places and impassioned arguments on how to impose yet another treaty on the ever more vociferously complaining populace, has been awarded the Norwegian Joke Prize Nobel Peace Prize, which is not awarded by the Swedish Academy but by the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

I saw the story first in the Washington Post, so I shall quote from it.
The Norwegian prize committee said the EU received the award for six decades of contributions “to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.
“The stabilizing part played by the European Union has helped to transform a once torn Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace,” Nobel committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said.
The EU rose from the ashes of World War II, born of the conviction that ever closer economic ties would make sure that century-old enemies never turned on each other again.
Well, of course, as anyone who has looked at the history of this noxious institution knows, the EU did not rise from the ashes of anything. The EU came into existence in 1992 after the Maastricht Treaty, just about the time the war in former Yugoslavia was unfolding, with the EU and its egregious Ministers adding to the flames by encouraging the Communist apparatchik turned Serb nationalist Slobodan Milosevic to keep the federation together by whatever means possible.

Even the EEC didn't exactly rise from those ashes. By 1957 Western Europe was recovering from the war with the help of the Marshall Fund and their own activity (especially in West Germany) while Eastern Europe was left to its own far from peaceful devices.

Across Europe in that period there have been a few crises: the Berlin air lift, the uprising in East Berlin in 1953, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the various attempts to throw off Communism in Poland, the Prague Spring, the Berlin Wall, and so on. Where was the EU or its predecessors?

Then came the fall of Communism, achieved by the people of the countries involved with a little help from President Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher (none of whom got the Nobel Peace Prize). Where was the EU? Well, at least, we know where it was when former Yugoslavia erupted.

As we look around at southern Europe in particular we find a curious picture of peace and democracy. But then the EU is not precisely democratic as any fule kno. In fact, its whole raison d'être is to surmount democracy and old-fashioned political accountability by managerial politics. One assumes that is why the Norwegian Committee has warmed to it.

I do not find it upsetting or insulting. Nor do I think as some people seem to that it makes a joke of the prize. It does not affect the real Nobel Prizes, that is the various science ones and the Peace Prize has been a joke for many decades. In fact, the last time a deserving candidate was awarded it was in 1906 when Teddy Roosevelt was given the gong for negotiating the Treaty of Portsmouth NH between Russia and Japan, thus bringing an actual war to an end without (as in the case of the 1972 prize, divided between Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho) unleashing a war by one of the governments against its own people. Since then? Well, have a look at the list.

One wonders, incidentally, whether there is now going to be a fight in Brussels as to who should go to Oslo to receive the Prize and the money and what will happen to that sum, which is not to be despised. Another question: when we have that famous referendum so many eurosceptics are screaming for, will the Prime Minister use this as an argument for staying in the EU?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Not again!

Back in July we had the case of a 17 year old being arrested because he sent a stupid tweet to a sportsman. Now we hear that an unemployed teenager in Chorley has actually been sent to prison for three months because he put  up some tasteless jokes about April Jones and Madeleine McCann on his Facebook page. And, as Douglas Murray points out, the mob (there really is no other way of describing it) in court cheered and applauded.

We can ask all the usual questions. Have the police nothing better to do with their time? Is there no crime to investigate and no burglars or shop-lifters to arrest in Chorley? (Woops, no, shop-lifting is rarely considered to be a crime these days as the police are "under-staffed".) Is not our legal system seriously over-stretched? Can the Chorley JP, Dr Bill Hudson, really not think of any crime that is more disgusting or despicable? Has our centuries-old legal system really descended to the level of vigilante mob rule? And so on, and so on.

Interestingly, Douglas Murray picks up another point in the case.
But even aside from the lack of wisdom in sending someone to prison for telling jokes – however unpleasant – the messages our flailing society sends out seem to be getting increasingly deranged. Perhaps JP Dr Bill Hudson does not have a television. Every time I turn one on I find exactly the type of humour he finds so shocking. Try Jimmy Carr or Frankie Boyle. Almost to a man – only ever men – this nation’s comedians earn their followings by making the most tasteless and disgusting jokes they can get away with. Perhaps they should. Much of the best humour is about pushing peoples’ boundaries of taste. The most popular type of humour in Britain is currently based not on eliciting real laughter but rather a sort of shocked ‘I can’t believe he said that’ gasp. It is not everybody’s idea of comedy, but it is obviously the ideal for a lot of people, because they reward the comedians so lavishly that the comedians themselves often have to locate tax-avoidance schemes to keep themselves in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed.
Undoubtedly, many of those who cheered and clapped are avid watchers of Jimmy Carr and Frankie Boyle.

ADDENDUM: Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecution has clearly decided that there are no problems in this country with policing, crime and the judiciary, as he is now engaged on a most important task: consulting "with lawyers, journalists and police about how to deal with the growing number of abusive tweets and posts on social networking sites that warrant arrests". No, this is not Iran or Russia but that does not mean that we should just accept this attempt to go after people who put stupid things up on the social media.

Incidentally, I was intrigued to see this in the article after reference to the young man in Chorley:
And yesterday a Dewsbury man who posted a Facebook message that said ''all soldiers should die and go to hell'' after six British soldiers were killed in Afghanistan was spared jail, receiving instead 240 hours of community service.
Is it just because magistrates are different on that side of the Pennines or have we now a hierarchy of speech crimes?

Pussy Riot - latest

On appeal the sentence on Yekaterina Samutsevich (who did not, in fact, take part in the famous or infamous  "punk prayer") has been suspended. The other two will serve it in full.
There were cheers in court when the two-year jail term of Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, was suspended. 
Earlier the trio spoke defiantly at the appeal hearing, saying their protest song was political and not anti-Church.
Not anti-Church, maybe, and not anti-religion, certainly but the protest was anti the Church hierarchy, which is far too close to the Putin regime. Historians of Russia and of the later part of the Soviet Union would argue that there is nothing unusual in that.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A courageous but true article

I have nothing to add to this article Abdulateef Al-Mulhim in Arab News except to applaud the courage of both and to say that it has taken far too many years, far too many lives and far too many resources for such an article to appear.

All pupils must be equal ...

... even if it means no prizes for anybody. This story from Sweden is raising hackles, particularly at Falun where a school cook was told that she had to cut back on choices in vegetables and stop producing her own loaves of bread for two reasons.

Apparently, her meals that sound delicious, varied and very healthy somehow "comply with the directives of a local healthy diet scheme which was initiated in 2011". Or so says the municipality and who should know better than a bunch of bureaucrats with too much power and no knowledge of anything useful.

Secondly, and most importantly, the meals are too varied and too tasty (though, apparently, not too expensive). Other schools, says Katarina Lindberg, head of the unit responsible for the school diet scheme do not have such meals and the diet scheme was developed "to improve school meals overall and to try and ensure everyone does the same". Of course, the notion of other schools improving their standards is alien to the bureaucratic mind and the pupils in Anika Eriksson's school have to suffer as a result.

Hammer and Sickle or the Swastika?

I was not going to write about Eric Hobsbawm again for some time and, in fact, this piece is not about him. I was sent a link to Peter Hitchens's column on the subject in which he quite correctly notes that young people will cheerfully wear a hammer and sickle badge (or a Che Guevara t-shirt) and not understand the question when asked whether they would wear a swastika. In fact, I was amazed at the number of people who pointed out quite seriously during the vehement discussions in the wake of Hobsbawm's death that there is a huge difference between supporting murderous Communist dictators and murderous fascist/Nazi ones as the former were motivated by a sense of decency and a desire for a better and more free world. I asked some of them whether the deliberate starvation of 13 million peasants, men, women and children, was a sign of decency. It is always fun to watch people like that squirm.

Mr Hitchens's piece does bring out a couple of other points. In the first place, he mentions one of the best books on the subject, Under Two Dictators by Margarete Buber Neumann, about which I have written before. (I still think everyone should read it.) Hitchens describes well the handing over of German Communists (those that had survived) to Hitler in 1939 but does not mention the real irony of the situation.

Not all of them were sent to camps by the Gestapo. The Jews were, as one would expect but the others, with a couple of exceptions, to their surprise were packed off home and told to report to the local police regularly. Margarte Buber Neumann was one of those who was sent to Ravensbrück and she did, indeed, have a bad time there from the Communist inmates as much as the guards because she tried to tell the truth about the Soviet Union.

The reason for her being separated from the others was that the Gestapo did not believe her protestations that she thought Heinz Neumann had been murdered (pace Peter Hitchens, she did know or, at least, heard reliable rumours from other prisoners). The Gestapo simply would not believe that Stalin would have somebody who was not just a Communist (they knew what was happening to them) but a complete Stalinist who was prepared to turn on his own colleagues at the slightest word from the Great Leader. Yet it was true.

The other amusing part of the article is the description of the way the Daily Worker twisted and turned in 1939 and 1940 when, in the wake of  the Nazi-Soviet Pact and the Nazi-Soviet invasion of Poland, they were on the other side of the battle. Let us not forget that while Britain did not stand alone during the Battle of Britain (there was the small matter of the Empire and the Dominions as well as individuals who had escaped from occupied countries to join the battle and other individuals who had come from supposedly neutral ones like Ireland and the United States) it most certainly did not have the Soviet Union on her side. Au contraire. Germany could not have fought in those months in the air or on sea without Soviet help. And a lot of thanks Stalin got for his assistance. About as much, in fact, as he gave to his most loyal servants.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A couple of pictures

This is still about the American Presidential campaign and some of the more ... ahem ... interesting aspects of it.

This graphic appeared on the Obama/Biden site and was removed after a certain amount of fuss but not before somebody thoughtfully took a screen shot.

And here is the response.

What I find odd is that women might find it possible to vote for the Democrats and for Obama in particular after that sort of political statement.

Things are hotting up

On the other side of the Pond the Republicans are celebrating the outcome of the first Presidential debate that left Obama (minus TOTUS) in tatters even according to his warmest supporters in the media (i.e. most of the media). There are far too many links to put up as the opinion seems to be unanimous.

The rest of the world, meanwhile, is ... well, not exactly celebrating the fact that four years of Obama's presidency have not produced a better and more peaceful or free situation. A war between Syria and Turkey is looming. Make that was looming and is now almost in full flow.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


This morning I received an e-mail from the producer of yesterday's Start the Week, apologizing, among the thanks because the edited version of the programme, due to be broadcast yesterday evening was cancelled to leave room for an old interview with Eric Hobsbawm. How ironic, I replied, that a programme that was at least partly about the crimes and horrors of Communism should give way to one about a life-long apologist for it.

A great Communist crime denier dies

On my way to and from Manchester yesterday and today I read Anne Applebaum's latest book Iron Curtain about the subjugation of Eastern Europe between 1944 and 1956. Ms Applebaum's knowledge and understanding of the European Union is not quite what it ought to be, given that she usually appears in the guise of one of our leading political commentators but she does know the history of Communism and what it did to the countries and peoples who, for various reasons, found themselves under its rule. The first few chapters describe in some detail the brutality, violence, whole scale looting and widespread rapine that marked the Red Army's route across Eastern and Central Europe, regardless of whether they were in enemy or friendly countries, with soldiers or civilians, men or women, adults or children, friend or foe. And then came the NKVD and the organized violence and looting. How many people know, for instance, that several of the Nazi camps, Auschwitz and Buchenwald included, were reopened by the Soviets for their own purposes? Not a few of the people they imprisoned there had been liberated only a few weeks previously.

As I was reading this horrible tale I got a text message from somebody who saw on the news that Professor Eric Hobsbawm, the best known apologist for Stalin and denier of Communist crimes, has died. We are entering a period of unrestrained mourning for this man who has on various occasions been described as the greatest living historian and one of the most influential ones. Sadly, the last part of it is true. He has been influential.

While Holocaust deniers are rightly excoriated Professor Hobsbawm has been treated in life and will be in death with the greatest adulation. Channel 4 lists some of the misguided souls who are pronouncing sorrowfully on the demise of this supposedly great man and asks rather disingenuously whether he was an apologist for tyranny.

Well, yes, as a matter of fact, he was. This is what I wrote in 2006 in connection with the wrong-headed suggestion, fortunately never acted on, that Holocaust denial should be made a crime across the EU, suggesting that, logically, some other denials should be made a criminal offence. The mere suggestion shows up the ludicrousness of it all.
But what of the historians who have been peddling lies about the Soviet Union, denying the horrors of Communism and generally abusing freedom of speech? What of Professor Eric Hobsbawm CH, given that honour by Tony Blair? 
Throughout his long and distinguished career Professor Hobsbawm belonged to the CPGB (as long as there was a CPGB to belong to) and refused to acknowledge the Joseph Stalin was not the nicest possible man around, who occasionally got a little bit angry but what can you expect when you have the welfare of the world at heart. 
Even in recent books Professor Hobsbawm implicitly denied the extent of Stalin’s and Mao’s mass murders, and was all coy about the victims of collectivization imposed by every single Communist tyrant from Uncle Joe to Colonel Mengistu. Far from being disdained, let alone arrested and imprisoned, the good professor is highly feted (Companion of Honour, no less) and his books are required reading by all university students of history. 
All this, despite the fact that every single thing the Austrian judge or the British one in the Irving libel case of 2000 said about that wretched man can be said about Professor Hobsbawm (and numerous other, less eminent historians) with a few adjustments: instead of Nazism, Communism; instead of the Holocaust, the purges and collectivization; instead of mass murder, mass murder.
It is being said about Professor Hobsbawm that he has acknowledged that nasty things happened in the Soviet Union and other Communist countries but, holding aloft the torch of idealism, he maintained that it was all worth it for the glorious future that was incipient in the ideas that produced the violence.

In the first place, one has to wonder about anyone who could look at the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, where he was an honoured visitor in the fifties and say honestly that it was worth to go through those horrors to produce that system. In the second place, it was only after the collapse of the Soviet Union, after the dissolution of the CPGB to which Professor Hobsbawm belonged, despite the show trials, despite the Nazi-Soviet Pact, despite Stalin's second, viciously anti-Semitic purge, despite the conquest and oppression of Eastern Europe, despite the uprisings in the fifties and their bloody suppression, despite the Prague Spring and its suppression, that he was even asked point blank about the mass murders; only then did he say with a sigh of nostalgia for his ideals that yes, he still thought it was all worth it.

I wrote about that (I seem to have written rather a lot about this man) last year and in that posting mentioned my review in the Salisbury Review of Hobsbawm's history of the twentieth century, Age of Extremes, described by the unctious BBC as one of his great history books. As a matter of fact, it is not a good book. How can it be? It follows the tired and long-disproved Marxist explanation of twentieth century developments and, worse than that, it absolutely refuses to deal with the horrors inflicted on the world by one of the totalitarian ideologies of that period. In 1995 my review said this:
Age of Extremes promotes general views that we have heard over and over again. The First World War was caused by capitalist rivalry, the slump by the free market, socialism in some form or another as the true salvation, fascism as counter-revolutionary and its unfortunate appearance as capitalism's last effort to defeat socialism and so on. It seems incredible that an historian should ignore or deny the essential similarities between fascism (especially Nazism) and Communism, but Hobsbawm manages it. 
How on earth can this be described as a good book? There is worse to come. The two great wars of the century, says Hobsbawm, resulted in revolutions, the First World War in the Russian one and the Second World War in the various revolutions that spread the ideas of the Russian one far and wide. Well, actually, only as far as the Soviet occupation went with its force, violence and deliberate destruction of all opposition. Could the Communists take-overs in those countries be really called revolutions by an historian with the slightest degree of honesty?

Then there is the problem of collectivization, a succession of catastrophes, inflicted on various mostly agrarian societies that inevitably resulted in millions of deaths and destruction of agriculture for decades to come.
Professor Hobsbawm with a completely straight face could say, among other things, that it was not entirely comprehensible but very sad that agricultural failure and, indeed, famine happened wherever collectivization was practised. This meant, in his opinion, that one cannot really judge how effective, economically and socially, such a theoretically wonderful idea could be.
Is this the judgement of a great historian or of an honourable thinker who looks at the evidence and draws the necessary conclusions? I think not.

Let me now turn to the personal aspect. Unlike Michael Burleigh, who gives an excellent analysis of the man and his work in the Daily Telegraph I did meet Eric Hobsbawm and probably even spoke to him though the last time we might have exchanged words, at the funeral of Eva Haraszti Taylor, the widow of my supervisor A. J. P. Taylor, Professor Hobsbawm studiously ignored my tentative approach.

Eric Hobsbawm, as I said above, was a welcome visitor to the Soviet Union and to Eastern Europe, among them Hungary where he met my father and was invited several times to our home. There was nothing unusual in that: British and American visitors usually ended up in our flat at some point. In his autobiography, Interesting Times, Hobsbawm remembers spending a convivial Christmas day with us and my parents' great friend, the geographer and erstwhile great spy, Alex Rado. (Yes, yes, yes, I shall write about all these people one day.)

Hobsbawm's was one of the first homes we visited on our arrival to this country and there were subsequent meetings but the friendship fell apart, largely, in his opinion, because of my father's anti-Soviet and anti-Communist writings and activity. Well, maybe. Somehow, he never quite got round to mentioning that at one stage before the estrangement my father asked him whether he knew about the Soviet purges, the terror, the truth about collectivization. Yes, admitted Professor Hobsbawm, but "we did not want to know, we did not want to hear". Subsequently, as we have seen, he told some journalists that, of course, he knew but it was of no significance. Others he told that neither the Soviet Union nor the People's Democracies were the political face of real Marxism though, for some reason, he had remained strongly and unarguably supportive of them.

Then he added:
He [Tibor Szamuely] himself, after almost starving in the siege of Leningrad, claimed also to have had the usual spell in a camp during the dictator's final lunacies.
This is a deeply dishonest comment. First of all, my father was nowhere near Leningrad during the war and never claimed to have been. But the notion that he "claimed" to have had the "usual spell" in a camp is a highly distasteful and dishonest sneer not just at one man, who most certainly did have a spell, albeit a relatively short one, in a camp but at all the people who came out of the Soviet Union and other Communist countries with tales of horror. Then there is the phrase about "the dictator's final lunacies".

The dictator, in this case, of course, is Stalin whose word remained law for Professor Hobsbawm, the loyal member of the CPGB for decades. Those slightly boring final lunacies was his second purge, which was largely anti-Semitic in character with a ferocious campaign against "rootless cosmopolitans", that is Jews. This is of some interest, as one of Professor Hobsbawm's explanations for his joining the Communist Party and remaining in it was his hatred and fear of Nazism and the Western democracies' alleged inability to deal with it. Surely, Hitler's persecution and eventual mass murder of Jews must come into the thinking somewhere. Why was Stalin's persecution, imprisonment, exile and murder of Jews of so little importance? Why could it be dismissed even years later with a dismissive comment?

Through the weeping and gnashing of teeth that will accompany Eric Hobsbawm's name in the days to come we must remember that not only was he an unrepentant supporter of the worst totalitarian system in history, the unrepentant denier of crimes committed by that system but he was also a man for whom Marxism and its explanation of history overrode all other considerations. Knowledgeable and talented he may have been; amusing and literate he may have been; convivial and sophisticated he may have been; but, ultimately his history was imbued with the same ideas that created the lies of Soviet and other Marxist historiography.