Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A problem we face in our discussions

An exchange towards the end of the Second Reading of Lord Pearson's Bill demonstrates clearly one of the problems we face when we discuss even the purely economic aspect of our membership of the EU (not our relationship with Europe, please).

If you scroll down to Lord Sassoon's reply on behalf of HMG you will find the following words:
While we are on this topic, I would say to the noble Lords, Lord Pearson of Rannoch and Lord Willoughby de Broke, that I do not recognise the numbers that they were quoting. The net contribution of the UK to the EU in 2010-11 is estimated at £7.6 billion, up from £4.7 billion in 2009-10, but of course the reason for that increase is because of the give-away that the last Government gave on the UK's abatement. Having stepped up very significantly to the new level, the OBR's figures are that the numbers now remain broadly level over the next few years.
Lord Pearson intervened with the following:
For clarity's sake I should say, following on from what the Minister has just said about our gross and net contributions, that he is talking about the Treasury figures. The figures that we gave are from the pink book and include all our contributions to the European venture, whether they go through the Treasury or not, such as the DfID budget. So I am afraid that our figures are the correct figures.
From which we can assume that HMG does not use the figures published in the Pink Book.

Lord Sassoon added another complication to that discussion:
My Lords, I was quoting the figures of the independent Office for Budget Responsibility, not the Treasury's own figures, but let us turn to the more important issue: that Europe must pursue an ambitious agenda for growth. In the single market, I believe that we have one of the most powerful tools to ensure strong, sustainable and balanced growth not only across the EU but for the UK. The noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, quoted all the figures that Ministers would customarily quote, so I am very grateful to him for helping me out. I will simply emphasise that this is a market worth €12 trillion and home to 500 million consumers.
Setting aside the last sentence of that paragraph, which is irrelevant as the market and the consumers will not disappear with our departure from the EU and, in any case, we do better in other markets, there remains the problem of figures: exactly which ones are accurate?

And now for a rant

There are times when the state of this country is in exasperate even me and I tend to think that things have been much worse fairly frequently in the past.

Item 1: today's public sector strike. Without going into all the details, it is sufficient to say that the public sector was the growth industry in this country throughout the Labour years with unemployment being kept low by the public rather than the private sector hiring and money going on various projects that kept young people especially off the unemployment register. As for pensions, let us not forget the repeated raids on the private pension funds in order to raise money for the public sector.

We can no longer afford this and the screws are slowly, far too slowly, being tightened. So we get strikes about pensions that are above what most people in the private sector can afford. The rest of us have to work and manage as best we can.

Yet the moment this is said one gets people (not many but some) who shriek about the public sector workers saving lives and being poor. Nurses and dinner ladies are favourite examples. Just how many in the public sector save lives? And how many of them get paid as badly as dinner ladies? How many, on the other hand, have very nice, safe (less so these days but still safer than in the private sector) well paid jobs which consist of creating ever more forms to fill in and making life difficult for the rest of us? Oh, and let's not forget those nice safe pensions at the end.

Then there are the teachers and class assistants. Apparently I have to feel for them because they work so hard for so little money. Are these the same people who while pocketing a not inconsiderable salary fail to teach our children to read and write, as well as other subjects?

Item 2: the strange hysteria surrounding some unpleasant and probably unwell woman who produced a truly disgusting racist rant on the Croydon tram. These things do happen: rants and rows are not uncommon on public transport and the woman should have been asked to get off as she was a nuisance. Instead, we got what Brendan O'Neill has called a twenty-first century Twitch Hunt, started by some self-righteous little ... oh never mind ... who decided to film the event and put it on YouTube. The rest can be read here.
Rather than showing that ‘racism in Britain is as rife as ever’, as one person tweeted, the #MyTramExperience Twitch Hunt actually reveals the rise of a different backward trend: the tendency for herds of intolerant Twitterers to act like coppers’ narks, to make a massive deal out of their own shallow moralistic indignation, and to be utterly contemptuous of the idea that the public is more than capable of dealing with isolated incidents of racist abuse when they arise. The hounding of this woman was not a great act of anti-racist activism – it was the virtual equivalent of children chasing the local crazy lady through the streets and shouting ‘Nutter!’ or ‘Cow!’.
Of course, one could argue that this is the curse of the social media, which has many good aspects as well. People seem to lose all sense of proportion in their comments and reactions because it is done from a computer or some other electronic application.

ADDENDUM: The Taxpayers' Alliance has published a helpful guide to public sector pay and pensions. Read it if you have time.

Time for a picture of Mahalia

Among the greenery

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Iceland refuses to do as it is told

Not being absolutely sure about Ambrose Evans-Pritchard's information and analysis I checked this one out with my friend Hjörtur J. Guðmundsson, a leading Icelandic eurosceptic and author of the blog Iceland and the European Union. He said that as far as he knew this was true. So here goes.
The OECD has come very close to predicting a depression for Europe unless EU leaders conjure up a lender-of-last resort very quickly, and somehow manage to make the world believe that the EFSF bail-out fund really exists.

Even if disaster is avoided, the eurozone growth forecast is dreadful. Italy, Portugal, Greece will all contract through 2012, while Spain, France, Netherlands, and Germany will bounce along the bottom.

Unemployment will reach 18.5pc in Greece, 22.9pc in Spain, 14.1pc in Ireland, 13.8pc in Portugal.

Yet Iceland stands out, with 2.4pc growth and unemployment tumbling to 6.1. Well, well.
As the man said: well, well.

In fact, Iceland seems cocky enough to reject a Chinese businessman's offer to buy a 115 square mile tourist farm in the north-east of the country, citing security concerns. So why the Icelandic Parliament should use the country's obviously strong position to be the first Western country to recognize the Palestinian state "within the 1967 borders" when there was no Palestine and Gaza belonged to Egypt while the West Bank to Jordan, is a mystery. Perhaps, they are just cocking a snook at everyone.

I have news for UKIP Cornwall

No, the Government will not "finally have to talk about what the UK get out of the EU and how much it is costing us to belong". Yes, we had the Second Reading of Lord Pearson's Bill on Friday and no, this will not actually force HMG to do anything. Had Ms Clarke of UKIP Cornwall actually read Hansard she would have seen the following words in Lord Pearson's opening speech:
This is not the first time that your Lordships have debated this or a similar Bill at Second Reading. We did so last some four and a half years ago, on 8 June 2007, and we had similar debates on 11 February 2004, 27 June 2003 and 17 March 2000. The series would not be complete without mentioning 31 January 1997, when your Lordships' House voted at Second Reading for a Bill that would have taken us out of the European Union altogether.
Don't get me wrong: the fact that this is not the first time Lord Pearson of Rannoch introduced a Bill in the House of Lords or the first time it got to Second Reading (in fact, there was one occasion when we got to Committee stage) does not negate his achievements then or now. But it would be very useful if eurosceptics started the process of finding out what has happened in the past and what has not. A good many disappointments would be avoided.

PS: I do intend to blog about the debate as there were many interesting comments made by various peers but I thought I would get a splenetic posting in first.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Quite so

This afternoon I wandered through the Private Eye exhibition at the V&A that should have been entitled "How the Establishment Encloses its Critics" and found this cover that says it all.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Looking forward

The BBC put up the following about what is to happen in the House of Lords on Tuesday:
Over in the Lords (from 2.30pm), peers have their first day of detailed committee stage debate on the Protection of Freedoms Bill. But watch out, too, for a question to ministers from Ukip's Lord Willoughby de Broke, on the suggestion that the EU Commission should have the power to scrutinise the budgets of member states, and penalise them if they go astray.
Should be an interesting if brief debate.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

While I am working on a longish post ...

... here is something to keep everyone, especially those who are under their cats' thumbs, entertained.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Springs come, springs go ...

... but the UN and its institutions do not change. Daily do we read of appalling crimes perpetrated by the Assad regime on Syria's people and what else do we find?
UNESCO’s executive board, which includes the US, France, the UK and other Western democracies, unanimously elected Syria to a pair of committees – one dealing directly with human rights issues – even as the Bashar al-Assad regime maintains its campaign of violence against its own citizens.

The Arab group at UNESCO nominated Syria for the spots, and though the 58-member board approved the pick by consensus on Nov. 11, the agency has not yet posted the results on its website.

Syria’s election came just a day before the League of Arab States moved to suspend Syrian membership of that body.
I wonder when they will post the result on the website. What are they waiting for?

Debate in the House of Lords

The Second Reading of Lord Pearson's Bill, European Union Membership (Economic Implications) was scheduled to start at 10 a.m. this morning. You can watch the debate here.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Well, well, what do you know?

During yesterday's Starred Question about Lockerbie, the transitional Libyan government and HMG's activity, Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked about poor sick Mr Al Megrahi, whose imminent death seems to have been postponed sine die. [scroll down]
My Lords, can the noble Lord inform us about the state of health of Mr Al Megrahi, who was released by the Scottish authorities on the grounds that he had only six months to live?
Lord Howell of Guildford (for it is he again) replied:
We have passed a request from the devolved Administration to the Libyan chargé d'affaires in London asking that the supervision arrangements of Al Megrahi's licence are observed. Part of the investigation by the Dumfries and Galloway police will also embrace the question of his condition, but we are awaiting the precise details of his health from the Libyan Government now.
Nail-biting, isn't it?

Show time

Last Sunday I finally saw Astaire and Rogers's last film together, The Barkleys of Broadway. To be recommended. A more sophisticated plot than in many of their films and wonderful numbers. This is one of the best:


To start with, I looked up previous postings on the subject and found this one from 2006. It links back to Michelle Malkin's list of what Americans (and, as I said, we) can be thankful for and has a go at whiny journalists. Oh go on, you know you want to read it. Here is Michelle's posting for this year's Thanksgiving, a sadder and more personal one. A couple of nice Thanksgiving postings on Chicagoboyz, one of my intermittent blogging homes (here and here).

The Wall Street Journal, as ever, had provided the right articles. Thomas Fleming writes about American servicemen and women celebrating Thanksgiving in many parts of the world, specifically in Britain in 1942.

And so we come to the annual articles that never fade: A Desolate Wilderness by Nathaniel Morton, that records the Pilgrims' arrival (though that is not what the first Thanksgiving celebrated) and the one about America now, And the Fair Land.
'For all our social discord we yet remain the longest enduring society of free men governing themselves without benefit of kings or dictators.'
Long may it continue and reflect back on the rest of the Anglosphere. Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Waffle and yet more waffle

You have to hand it to Lord Pearson of Rannoch: he does try to get some sense out of Her Majesty's Government. Sadly, he has not yet succeeded and is unlikely to do any time soon.

On Tuesday he asked the following Starred Question:
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they continue to support European integration.
It is a cardinal rule in politics that only those questions to which one knows the answers should be asked of Ministers. Whether anybody, including HMG, knows the answer to this is a moot point. Certainly, you would never work out what it was from Lord Howell's rambling and waffly reply:
My Lords, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has described the present situation as,

"an opportunity to begin to refashion the EU so it better serves this nation's interests".

We want to see a European Union, in his words,

"with the flexibility of a network, not the rigidity of a bloc".
The future shape of the EU might well involve more integration in some areas and between some countries, and less in others. Of course, the Government have also made it clear that they wish to see no treaty changes that transfer power or competencies from the UK to the EU in this Parliament.
Um, in Europe but not run by Europe? Being at the heart of Europe? Flexible Europe? Have we not heard all these suggestions before while the process has continued in one direction?

To Lord Pearson's supplementary, Lord Howell came up with yet another mushy statement:
I think the British people have a sensible and balanced appreciation of the virtues of living in the European continental area: that it is a mighty single market; that our influence in it is useful; and that when it comes to trade bargaining with the rising powers of Asia, Latin America and Africa, it is very useful to have a bit of muscle. That is a perfectly sensible and common-sense view that, I suspect, prevails in the minds of most of the British people. They may not like some of the aspects of the EU-many of us find these things irritating-but on the whole it seems a reasonable grouping in which to be deeply and actively involved, and that is where we stand.
The Marquess of Lothian (formerly Michael Ancram) tried to cut across it all and get some sort of a straight answer:
My Lords, how would the Minister define a European Union that is more of a network than a bloc?
Good try by his Lordship but it got him nowhere.
My noble friend is asking for an answer that would take longer than the patience of the House of Lords could tolerate. The simple answer is that a bloc tends to be a congealed and sometimes compelled form of integration under tight central control, while a network is a much more modern, less fragile and less rigid structure in which exchanges of views and dialogues in addressing new issues can constantly be adjusted in the light of changing circumstances.
It was that well-known and completely open europhiliac, Lord Anderson of Swansea who put the right question and drew the right conclusions though I would phrase them somewhat differently:
My Lords, do not the ambitions set out by the Minister depend essentially on the concurrence of our partners? What expectation does he have that that will be forthcoming? Is it not a fact that as a result of the economic and financial crisis, there will be strong pressures for more integration in certain sectors? We as a Government and as a country have a choice, either arrogantly to rail against them from outside, or to be part of them and seek to bow them in a way that we want, including on principles of subsidiarity and proportionality.
Or, in other words, there is nothing we can do to achieve that much-vaunted flexibility and our choices are either to get out and renegotiate all the agreements afterwards or to go along meekly with whatever is being put together. Lord Howell did not say that, which will not surprise this blog's readers:
Some of those aspects are correct, but the noble Lord overemphasises the polarity and the rigidity of the choice. There is no doubt that one of the propositions that is current throughout the eurozone is that the only way forward is towards fiscal union. Indeed, if that is a way of avoiding total chaos in the European markets, it is in our interest, too, that the process should be non-chaotic. That is perfectly clear. However, in other areas, as I said earlier, some degree of decentralisation and flexibility might play a much more useful part in making the European Union fit for purpose in the 21st century.
The words wall, jelly and nail spring to mind.

Still opposed to the financial transaction tax

In response to a question by Lord Pearson of Rannoch about the proposed financial transaction tax under Article 311 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, Lord Sassoon wrote:
The Commission has put forward a proposal to introduce a financial transaction tax under Article 113 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Proposals put forward under Article 113 require unanimity in the Council of Ministers, giving the UK Government a veto over any such proposal. The Government oppose a European financial transaction tax.

In addition, the Commission has put forward a proposal under Article 311 to use revenues from its proposed financial transaction tax to part-fund the EU budget. Article 311 also requires unanimity in the Council of Ministers, giving the UK Government a veto over any such proposal. The Government oppose any new taxes to fund the EU budget.
We shall see what will happen later on in the process but this is where we stand at the moment officially.

Another one has come back

In 2007 I wrote about Sir Hayden Phillips's report on how political parties should be funded. Sir Hayden was using the argument of voters being worried about lack of transparency in funding of political parties and spending as well as the fact that the self-same parties were losing members and money to propose that there should be some complicated formula through which they would receive state funding.
One of the comments Sir Hayden makes repeatedly throughout his report is that all parties are losing members, votes, money from subs, and it is this that causes the hyperinflation of donations and spending. But might there not be a different correlation? The more the parties spend needlessly, the less anyone wants to have anything to do with them. In which case, the voters are not being bought. Far from it.

Sir Hayden suggests various caps on donations but recognizes that the Labour Party might find this difficult to introduce immediately because of its historical links with the trade unions. Also, at the moment it is experiencing greater difficulties in raising money than the Conservatives and this might affect the responses of both parties.

The same applies to a proposed cap on spending and, indeed, its control. Once again, it strikes me that if political parties foolishly spend, spend, spend their way into bankruptcy, well, so be it. They will not do it twice.
While a mature democracy cannot survive without parties (the alternative, as I said then, is a situation like the one in Russia) there is no reason why the parties that exist now should go on existing in perpetuity.
Sir Hayden comes up with a complicated formula of how parties should receive state funding according to the number of votes cast for them in elections, that being the surest way of showing how much support they can garner. As it happens, he is wrong. Support for parties is shown in votes, in membership, in voluntary activity and in the money they can raise. If they cannot get any of that, they had better start thinking of doing something else with their time.

What this report will achieve, if put into legislation, is a freeze on any political change or development, the very opposite of what it intends. A stronger democracy does not need "sustainable" funding of political parties but a true marketplace for them. Let the people decide and not through tax money being parcelled out by the Treasury.
And while we are at it, let us get rid of the underhand funding parties are already receiving from the state.

While it is not unreasonable to spend taxpayers' money on the smooth running of elections, there is no rational argument for such things as the Policy Development Grant or "Short Money".

Time has gone by and we have a different lot in Downing Street and on the Treasury Benches in the Commons. Yet what do we find? The Committee on Standards in Public Life has come up with a very similar proposal.
In a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron setting out the proposed changes, committee chair Christopher Kelly said it had ''come to the conclusion that the only safe way to remove big money from party funding is to put a cap on donations, set at £10,000''.

He conceded that it was ''hard to imagine a more difficult climate'' in which to suggest the public should pay more towards political parties.

''We would not have made it if we thought there was a credible alternative. We do not believe there is.

''If the public want to take big money out of politics, as our research demonstrates they do, they also have to face up to the reality that some additional state funding will be necessary.''

The sum required should be ''kept in perspective'', he said, as it was ''little more than the current cost of a first class stamp'' for each voter per year.
With respect, it is not the question of how much taxpayers are going to be paying to keep the parties they like less and less in place (the sum is bound to go up, anyway) but the mere notion of subsidizing what ought to be private organizations, independent of the state, that is so noxious. Do these people really not see the problem? Luckily, the usual greed-soaked arguments are about to set in. In the meantime, we should all start campaigning to take state funding out of party politics altogether.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Are we allowed to say sub-prime mortgages?

Come to think of it are we allowed to quote that bromide about people in power (not just the Bourbons) learning nothing and forgetting nothing? Those are the thoughts that go through one's head as we read the following:
The Prime Minister and his deputy, Nick Clegg, will unveil proposals to help first-time buyers of new homes by carrying part of the risk of their mortgages.

They also propose subsidising the construction of 16,000 homes by giving £400 million of taxpayers’ money to property developers.

In a further move, ministers are working on a scheme under which billions of pounds of money in pension funds will be used to finance the construction of power stations, wind turbines and roads.
Would it be too much to expect the people who blithely misuse taxpayers' money to do just a little bit of thinking? Yes, I expect it would. What will happen if those who take out mortgages that will be gaily handed out because the taxpayer will provide, find themselves too deeply in debt to be able to pay their interest?

James Delingpole has a more sinister explanation than just incompetence for this appallingly stupid idea.
Did you know that as part of his initiation for the Bullingdon Club, David Cameron had to steal a fluffy kitten from a kindly old lady called Mabel, barbecue it, and dance round the flaming kitty embers chanting: "Ra ra ra! I'm an Old Etonian and you're a filthy oik, moggy, and that's why I'm having you for dinner," before washing the charred feline down with a lovely bottle or three of Cheval Blanc '47 in readiness for the arrival of the Buller's harem of Russian whores?

Not, you understand, that I have any evidence that this story is true. But Cameron must have a skeleton in his closet of that magnitude, surely? It's the only explanation for the extraordinary grip exerted on him by the house building industry, which has just persuaded him to embark on the most harebrained scheme of his political career: the recreation, in Britain, of President Clinton's Community Reinvestment Act and of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.
Possible. For the moment I go with idiocy and economic illiteracy on a monumental scale.

Allister Heath, as ever, manages to connect his hammer with the nail head.
THERE are two ways one can address a problem caused by faulty policies: by tackling its root causes – or by addressing some of its manifestations, and risk creating more issues thanks to the law of unintended consequences which plagues all government actions. Regrettably, when it comes to house prices, the government is largely going for the second option, albeit with a small nod towards the first. There are massive problems in the housing market – but today’s announcement that the government is going to partly underwrite mortgages for first time buyers and move some risk onto taxpayers is a terrible, short-sighted blunder.

Developers will also be able to bid for public money to finish stalled developments: this implies yet more corporatism to fund projects nobody really wants. Have we all forgotten the sub-prime crisis in the US? Over there, politicians concerned that many poor people couldn’t afford homes forced and bribed lenders to lower credit standards and extend mortgages to those who couldn’t afford them. In the short-term, this boosted home-ownership; but it all ended in tears. It is good to care about the poor and young people who can’t get onto the housing ladder; but it is bad to give people false hope, to create moral hazard or to privatise gains and socialise losses in the housing market.
But they will not listen. It will all end in even bigger tears.

Suprun case resumes

This blog has been following the case of Mikhail Suprun, the Russian historian on trial for collecting material about the treatment of Soviet citizens of German origin (pretty much as bad as many other nationalities or sub-nationalities) and of German POWs.

The trial was resumed on November 16:
Students were outside the court to show support for Professor Suprun and Alexander Dudarev. Throughout the hearing they stood as “single-person pickets”, taking turns in the biting wind and frost. They carried banners reading: “Maybe there’s been enough repression?”; “Is it really 1937 again?” and “Free History!”

Tatyana Kosinova from the Memorial Research Centre in St Petersburg explains that the court questioned two witnesses, employees of the archives who confirmed that Professor Suprun had worked in the archives, taken copies etc. Lawyer Ivan Pavlov points out that the historian is in no way denying that he did any of this. He believes that the witnesses in fact testified in the defendants’ favour and finds it strange that they were called at all.

“The prosecution did not have and still does not have proof that the information about victims of repression gathered by Mikhail Suprun contained personal and family secrets. They don’t intend to prove it and become immediately deaf to our calls”.

As reported, the charges are the result of Mikhail Suprun’s work on creating a database of Germans deported during the War and in the first post-War years to a special settlement in the Arkhangelsk region – Soviet citizens of German origin and civilians with German citizenship, as well as of German prisoners of war held in Arkhangelsk camps. This study was being carried out within the framework of an agreement concluded in 2007 between the German Red Cros and the Pomorsky University. The main aim of the research is to preserve the memory of the victims of the Second World War and the post-War period.

The investigators claim that the construction by Suprun of a list of five thousand victims of post-War deportations constitutes “the gathering of information about their private life without their consent”. By “an official exceeding his powers” is meant the fact that Colonel Dudarev provided Suprun with access to archival material needed for his research.

The role of the FSB [Federal Security Service] in the case was questioned when the investigation began two years ago. The account given by Dudarev of the plaintiffs’ testimony last week highlights the concern felt as to who is behind the case.

Dudarev said the plaintiffs reminisced about their own experiences and the sufferings of their relatives between the 1940s and 1960s, but when asked precisely what they are accusing the defendants of, they were unable to answer.
No, this is not quite 1937 and one must be thankful for that. But the situation is bleak, nonetheless. Is it not time our own historians started raising their voices against this outrage?

Back in Old Blighty

I have now returned from Mitteleuropa where they say that while we in the West may know everything, they understand everything. They might be right at that. For all of that, I have come to the conclusion that the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, whose party did win the last election outright despite an electoral system that makes an event of that kind almost impossible, has turned into something far worse than our own Boy-King, who, as we know did not manage to win against the least popular government in living memory.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Apologies for the next few days

I am heading off to Mitteleuropa tomorrow and internet connection will be intermittent at best as I am not taking my laptop. I may invade somebody's computer space. We shall see. Back on Saturday evening and blogging will resume in real earnest.

Sometimes one finds a paragraph ...

While being a great admirer of Ruth Dudley Edwards, the journalist and non-fiction writer I am less than completely fond of her detective stories. They are very wittily written, full of fascinating characters and deliver wonderfully sharp attacks at the British Establishment, including and especially its left-wing variety. What they are not is detective stories. Crimes happen, investigation goes on and suddenly, hey presto, we get a solution for no apparent reason. Her last venture into the field, Murdering Americans, was barely readable, despite the sharp barbs. This is what I wrote about it at the time and I stand by all of that except that I have found out what happened to Superintendent Milton and his wife Ann. It is explained in the latest book I read, Publish and Be Murdered.

This novel takes us back to the early days of the Blair government when the entire main-stream media went dulalee over the bright new dawn of something or other. At the centre of the book is a staunchly conservative and brilliant weekly The Wrangler, which manages to stand up to this mass hysteria until the dishonest and venal editor decides to change tack.

While the author makes it explicitly clear that her hilariously funny description of the journal does not apply to The Economist about which she has written a learned book, such demurs are unnecessary: The Economist did not stand up to Blair and the surrounding media hysteria. The Wrangler is pure invention and a lot of fun it is, too.

One of the book's themes is whether it is possible to pursue the right path (in every sense of the word) and to comply with noblesse oblige in the modern world or whether economic considerations have to come first. How well one knows this dilemma. In the book a compromise is reached but this is rarely possible in real life.

The dilemma lies between Lord Papworth, known to all as Charlie, who is very old and who believes in doing his duty even if it means keeping a highly regarded but old-fashioned journal going, though he does get in a manager to sort out the finances and bring the publication a bit more up to date, and his son, whose notion of duty does not extend beyond his ancestral home and who thinks The Wrangler is nothing but a drain on resources and should be sold.

Questioned by Chief Inspector Milton after a murder and a suspicious death he explains quite frankly that he just wants to get rid of the rag. Reminded that his father did not agree with his point of view, he explodes:
Sodding easy for him too. He's a great man for the pro bono publico shit. Spent most of his life slogging away in the Lords defending tradition and decency in public life. And where does that get him and the others like him? Despised and mocked and threatened with extinction by these miserable gits that we've got ruling us now.
This was certainly true with the ghastly Blairites who were in government in 1998 when the book was first published but it is true now with the Cameroonies in there. Was it really worth voting for this lot?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Only Theresa May remains

Even Berlusconi has finally departed. Mind you, I don't think this is for good. I simply cannot believe that someone like that can be kept down for very long. And on the other side of the Pond we have the comeback kid, Newt Gingrich, once again being talked of seriously as a contender. Undoubtedly, the Obama machine will go into overdrive on Gingrich's private life, telling lies if necessary, but when it comes to real debates, there is no beating Newt. Suddenly the presidential election is beginning to look even more interesting.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month

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

May as well conclude the saga

As it is Greece, perhaps we should use another word. Well, farce will do. Anyway, ring out the bells: the Greek unity government has been formed. It will be led by the first candidate, before the Finance Minister tried to get in on the act, former ECB Vice President Lucas Papademos, the man who finessed Greece into the euro.
Papademos now has until early elections, likely to be held some time in February, to put Greece back on track to economic health. His first priority will be that of ensuring parliamentary approval for the €130 billion ($177 billion) EU bailout package for his country and the planned 50 percent slashing of Greek debt. European Union officials have made that approval a condition for receipt of the next €8 billion tranche of the first bailout package assembled for Greece back in early 2010.
Should be interesting.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Good news from Norway

I was sent this link by the author of Iceland and the European Union, who can, of course, read Norwegian. He suggested I use Google translation. No need, I said. I get the gist of it by just looking at the pie chart. Oh and the title of the piece: Rekorddårlig oppslutning om EU. And I want a hat like the first lady's.

Two questions, two answers

Lord Willoughby de Broke has asked HMG
what is their assessment of the draft proposal by the European Commission to "temporarily prohibit" credit rating agencies from publishing their analyses on a member state's solvency.
The answer was:
The House of Lords EU Economic and Financial Affairs and International Trade Sub-Committee's published a report in July entitled Sovereign Credit Ratings: Shooting the Messenger?. The report concluded that the proposal of credit ratings being suspended for countries receiving international financial assistance was inappropriate and impractical and implied censorship.

The Government agreed with the report's assessment. In particular, temporarily suspending ratings for certain sovereigns would only reduce information in financial markets, exacerbate uncertainty and possibly lead to further contagion. In the absence of such ratings, it is likely that unregulated shadow ratings of these countries would emerge in any case.
So there we are. That answer can be quoted next time the subject comes up.

Scrolling down one finds a question from a member of the Kinnock Enterprises Inc. no other but Glenys, Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead. She wanted to know:
what are the fundamental reforms of the European Union which they are determined to deliver.
This is an odd one to put down as a Written Question as it is so meaningless. You put it down as a Starred Question either because you want your own party's front bench to come up with an anodyne and reassuring answer or because you want to mess up the other side. But if you put it down in writing it looks terribly as if you wanted to know. Who can possibly want to know the answer to that meaningless question.

Nevertheless, HMG provided one:
The Government's immediate priority is for the eurozone to find a sustainable response to the current economic crisis, and to do so in a way that protects the rights of all 27 member states to take decisions over areas such as the single market. We shall also continue to press for tight limits on EU spending and action to promote growth and jobs, through free and open markets, and by cutting regulatory costs on European business. And the Government have committed to examining the balance of existing competences between member states and the European Union and, in particular, to work to limit the application of the working time directive in the United Kingdom.
A daring programme, wouldn't you agree.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

So where are we on those resignations?

Talks to form a unity government in Greece have collapsed and there ain't no Sanity Clause either.
In a day that was bizarre and chaotic even by Greek political standards, Papandreou wished his successor well and headed off to meet the president -- only for it to emerge that there was no successor due to feuding in the political parties.

Earlier, party sources said senior members of the socialist and conservative camps had settled on the speaker of parliament, veteran socialist Filippos Petsalnikos, barring last-minute snags.

But snags did indeed emerge, with large sections of Papandreou's PASOK party and the conservative New Democracy refusing to back Petsalnikos after a three-day hunt for someone to lead the coalition until early elections in February.
So who is the Greek Prime Minister? Do we even care? It appears that talks will start again tomorrow.

Meanwhile, we are assured that the eurozone has not plans to rescue Italy, which was never on the cards anyway. Whether Italy is too big to fail or not is a moot point but it is certainly too big to rescue.

French and German officials are discussing a smaller eurozone. It is not immediately clear whom they will shed but they might start with France. Of course, a smaller eurozone is as good as no eurozone, given that this was a political project from the very beginning, aimed at a fiscal and economic unification of however many countries there might be in the EU at any given time. That project has, to all intents and purposes, been abandoned.

The Italians hope to avoid the Greek political mess and a possible successor to Silvio Berlusconi when he finally goes has been mooted. Then again, it looked like the Papandreou succession was all stitched up as well, yet here we are.

Theresa May is definitely not resigning. Not today, anyway.

This, I thought, should be entertaining

And I was right. Lord Empey asked HMG
whether they propose to change the rules under which citizens of other European Union member states have access to the United Kingdom benefits system.
Well, we'd all like to know.

In HMG's name Lord Freud, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions, read out what the civil servants wrote replied:
My Lords, we do not propose to change the way DWP determines benefit entitlement for EU nationals, but we are considering the details of a European Commission reasoned opinion against the right to reside test. While we accept our responsibility in supporting EU nationals who work and contribute here, it is absolutely necessary that we protect our welfare system from those who come here with no intention of working or looking for work.
So, is that a yes, they do propose to change rules or no, they will stick it out and defy the Commission? Lord Empey asked for clarification, too, and got it, after a fashion:
My Lords, we are moving in two directions. First, we are looking hard at the Commission's opinion and considering whether we should go to court. We have two months in which to take that decision and the likelihood is that we will take it through the full legal process. The second area is the political one. We are talking to other countries which are also deeply disturbed about this. Some 13 countries have signed a motion calling for a minute statement and for a policy debate on this matter.
So, we are not just going to say "forget it" to the Commission and stick to our own rules for welfare.

Just checking

Berlusconi is still promising to step down but that, apparently, is not going to save Italy and her economy.
Italy's borrowing cost has soared to a record high, despite Silvio Berlusconi's promise to step down as prime minister.

Mr Berlusconi had said he wanted to show global markets that the country was "serious" about sorting out its finances.

But on Wednesday morning, Italy's 10-year government bond yield - the rate the country pays in interest to borrow money - rose above 7% for the first time since entering the euro.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano called for an immediate commitment to economic reforms to restore confidence in panicked financial markets.

Bond yields of more than 5% are considered unsustainable in the long term as governments cannot afford to pay that much over a long period.
Would it have been different if the man had paid any attention to his job and/or stepped down earlier? Quite possibly.

The Boy-King has come out fighting (well, sort of) for the beleaguered (I believe that is the correct expression) Theresa May. Her position thus becomes unassailable. Let me say that again, unassailable.

Hereditary Prime Minister Papandreou is all set to resign and this time he will really, really, do it. Well, he has to; after all, he told Sarko. In the fullness of time he will tell the people of Greece as well.

What with all this going on plus the IAEA officially announcing that Iran is becoming something of a problem, it is not surprising that the students' march for more money to be handed out against those terrible cuts in education has somehow disappeared from people's consciousness. Bad luck chaps and chapesses. And just a hint: try not to display Socialist Worker placards quite so prominently.

An excellent analysis

Arnold Ahlert provides an excellent and highly amusing (the man is almost as good at cold sarcasm as this blog is) of the Sarkozy-Obama open mic debacle with a particularly nasty jab at the media.
Yet according YNet News if it were up to the journalists who heard the exchange, Wasserman-Schultz wouldn't have needed any luck at all:

"The surprising lack of coverage may be explained by a report alleging that journalists present at the event were requested to sign an agreement to keep mum on the embarrassing comments. A Reuters reporter was among the journalists present and can confirm the veracity of the comments."

"A member of the media confirmed Monday that "there were discussions between journalists and they agreed not to publish the comments due to the sensitivity of the issue."

"He added that while it was annoying to have to refrain from publishing the information, the journalists are subject to precise rules of conduct."

What conduct? Because Sarkozy's office asked journalists not to turn on their headsets until the conference began, the comments were considered private, according to French media "traditions."

That excuse ostensibly covers the collective behinds of the French reporters. What about everyone else? What reporter in his right mind would sign anything that prevents him from reporting on a story made available, not by subterfuge or anything else resembling illegality, but by the carelessness of two world leaders? Since when did a legitimate "gotcha" moment become off limits to the press?
You may well ask.

It's show time

One of my favourite scenes towards the end of Billy Wilder's A Foreign Affair. Marlene Dietrich plays the former mistress of a high-ranking Nazi, now a cabaret singer in post-war Berlin. Her singing is fabulous and the tension builds up.

Are they going? Not on your life

Berlusconi "vows to resign". What on earth does that mean? The man has lost the vote, has lost his majority. Just go already. Nope, the BBC doesn't say he has resigned either just that " has confirmed he intends to resign after key economic reforms have been approved". Goodness me, I remember a time when Italian prime ministers went down like ninepins and there was none of this vowing around the place.

According to Reuters, he will resign after a new budget law is approved in parliament.

No, Papandreou hasn't gone either.
Greek political leaders failed to wrap up coalition talks as planned on Tuesday night, raising fears the deal could start to unravel after two missed deadlines.
The country’s president had been set to appoint a new cross-party government headed by Lucas Papademos, a former vice-president of the European Central Bank who previously served as Greece’s own central bank governor.

George Papandreou, the outgoing prime minister, was supposed to announce his resignation at the same time, according to an official from his PanHellenic Socialist Movement.

“There’s radio silence from our side, let’s see what happens in the morning,” said a senior socialist. The government spokesman could not be reached for comment.

An official from the conservative New Democracy party said:”Contacts seem to be over for today.” He added that there were “no indications” that Mr Papademos had pulled out of the discussions.
OK, I'll say it again: just go already.

That leaves Theresa May who has managed to pass the blame for her incompetence on to the head of the UK border force. He has resigned but in a Parthian shot has accused Ms May of misleading Parliament. As if she would. So the heat is on. Theresa May has already announced that she will not resign but we have not had a public pronouncement of support from the Boy-King. When that happens we shall know that her days are numbered.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Goal posts being shifted again

Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked HMG why there has been a "further" delay in the publication of the Pink Book, a.k.a. the United Kingdom Balance of Payments. Lord Wallace of Saltaire called upon Stephen Penneck, Director General for ONS, to reply:
The 2011 Pink Book was initially scheduled for publication on 1 November 2011. On 29 September, after consultation with key users, the ONS announced a modification to the timetable for various publications, including the Pink Book. The ONS announced that the Pink Book would be delayed until 23 November. The full announcement can be read at: http://www.ons.

The delay to the timetable was announced to ensure that the ONS could fully implement significant changes in the 2011 edition of the UK national accounts-the Blue Book. The changes included the introduction of a new industrial and product classification required by European Regulations SIC07 and CPA08 respectively, improved methods of deflation and some additional improvement in the financial services area. Because the balance of payments estimates for the UK are produced as an integrated part of the whole national accounts, these changes had an impact on the Pink Book timetable.
Or, in plain English, they are shifting the goal posts again.

Not nobody is going to resign

Theresa May is not resigning. Berlusconi is being urged by his "key ally", Umberto Bossi of the Northern League, to resign but is singing the Italian equivalent of "la-la-la-la, can't hear you". Greece is still "inching towards a deal" while
an emergency cabinet meeting -- the last likely to be held by the present government -- was postponed owing to a meeting between outgoing Prime Minister George Papandreou and Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos, state television channel NET said.
That means that Papandreou has not resigned either.

As you were.

Are we allowed to talk about glass houses?

French Prime Minister Sarkozy must see himself as a latter-day George Washington who cannot tell a lie or, at least, someone who can call other people liars with a straight face. Or so it would seem from the story that was suppressed by faithful journalists at first but has surfaced on French websites and has now been confirmed by Reuters.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy branded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "a liar" in a private conversation with U.S. President Barack Obama that was accidentally broadcast to journalists during last week's G20 summit in Cannes.

"I cannot bear Netanyahu, he's a liar," Sarkozy told Obama, unaware that the microphones in their meeting room had been switched on, enabling reporters in a separate location to listen in to a simultaneous translation.

"You're fed up with him, but I have to deal with him even more often than you," Obama replied, according to the French interpreter.

The technical gaffe is likely to cause great embarrassment to all three leaders as they look to work together to intensify international pressure on Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

The conversation was not initially reported by the small group of journalists who overheard it because it was considered private and off-the-record. But the comments have since emerged on French websites and can be confirmed by Reuters.

Obama's apparent failure to defend Netanyahu is likely to be leapt on by his Republican foes, who are looking to unseat him in next year's presidential election and have portrayed him as hostile to Israel, Washington's closest ally in the region.
It is also, by a strange coincidence the only democracy in the region but that is not likely to worry either Sarko or Obama.

However, the behaviour of journalists who decided that this particular conversation was private and off the record and was, therefore, not to be broadcast to all and sundry is curious. Would it have happened with other politicians in slightly different circumstances? Somebody broke ranks, clearly.

Netanyahu's office refused to comment, presumably because they could not stop laughing long enough.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Karlo rather than Groucho Marx for once

Of course, many of us recall what Karl Marx said at the beginning of The Eighteenth of Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (I must admit to finding it quite useful when I was doing history O level): History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.

Actually, that is a meaningless statement for if the first event, the tragedy, is history repeating itself, then there must have been an even earlier one. In his view Napoleon I was the tragedy and Napoleon III, the farce. But what came before that?

However, there is no getting away from the fact that all historical parallels one can draw for present events in Greece and Italy show the situation up as farce. For the time being, anyway.

Berlusconi, too, is hanging on

As Al-Jazeera says,
Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's prime minister, has rejected reports that he is on the brink of resigning from office on the eve of a crucial vote that could anyway bring down his government and effectively end the media tycoon's turbulent political career.

In a comment posted on his Facebook page on Monday, Berlusconi said rumours reported in the Italian media that he was close to quitting were "baseless".

Two journalists close to Berlusconi earlier said they believed he would resign within hours, with his centre-right coalition on the brink of collapse ahead of a crucial public finance vote on Tuesday.
Hah! Much those journalists knew. I reckon we can say a domani. In the meantime (I keep saying that, but the whole crisis has been a long sequence of "in the meantimes") here is a reasonably good analysis of the Italian situation in the Economist.

Still there

The New York Times says that
negotiations were proceeding slowly, and a statement released by the government cast doubt on whether the parties would be able to agree on a new leader before Tuesday. The statement, in its entirety, read: “There was a positive approach in talks between Prime Minister George Papandreou and the leader of the main opposition, Antonis Samaras, regarding who should be the new prime minister.”

Mr Papandreou’s office said that a cabinet meeting was scheduled for noon on Tuesday. It remained unclear when a new prime minister and government would be announced.
How quite quite extraordinary!

Mark Lowen of the BBC appears to think that the man who took Greece into the euro may emerge as the hero of the hour.
Lucas Papademos, a former vice president of the European Central Bank, is the front runner. He helped Greece move from drachma to euro, a process he would hope will not have to be reversed as the debt crisis worsens.
It is becoming ever less clear what Greeks in general think about being in the euro. In fact, that seems to be left out of the story altogether, the reporters and analysts assuming that, no matter what, the majority wants to stay in.

Meanwhile, in another Mediterranean country ...

... a crunch vote on public finance is awaited in Italy.
The euro fell on Monday as markets eyed a crunch vote on Italy's public finances amid concerns the euro zone debt crisis could engulf the country, while the Swiss
franc was pressured by speculation of further policy action to curb its strength.

The Swiss franc tumbled against the euro and the dollar after Swiss National Bank chairman Phillip Hildebrand suggested the franc was still overvalued against the
single currency.
The Swiss ought to be pleased.

Reuters reports rumours of a forthcoming Berlusconi resignation. Hmm. Maybe.

Sure enough, Berlusconi has denied rumours. Such matters as "the main Italian index, the FTSE MIB, recover[ing]earlier losses after reports emerged that Mr Berlusconi may resign" are of little interest to dear old Silvio.

Going, going ...

... but not gone yet. Discussions continue in Greece, though I am not quite sure that I would call this curious little arrangement (when it is actually made public) a "historic deal", except in the sense that everything that happens in "historic". No deals of this kind in modern Greece before? Come, come.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Hanging on in there

George Papandreou, hereditary Prime Minister of Greece is hanging on in there. The Telegraph says
George Papandreou, the Greek prime minister, cleared the way for his resignation by scheduling a three way meeting with Antonis Samaras, leader of the conservative opposition, and the president to overcome sticking points over the leadership and duration of the unity government.

A seven point plan for the new government was thrashed out at a cabinet meeting of socialist government. It included a deadline for parliament to ratify the eurozone bailout before the end of December.

Mr Papandreou told the cabinet that the country would be presented with a new government within hours and that he would vacate office soon after. The interim government, led by technocrats, will run the country until a general election is called, probably in the first half of next year.
Is that within hours shorter than the half an hour that was the period predicted at the time of the Cabinet meeting on Thursday?

Bloomberg adds:
Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, trying to preserve international aid before the nation runs out of money next month, raced to form a unity government before markets open as the main opposition leader demanded he step down before any accord.

“It’s clear this government is prepared to hand over the baton, but it can’t hand it over into a vacuum,” Papandreou told his ministers at a meeting today in Athens, according to an e-mailed transcript from his office. “We will hand it over to the next government if we agree and conclude on this. And I hope this will happen, as I said, soon and when I say soon, I mean today, not tomorrow, for very many reasons.”

Papandreou met late today with New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras and President Karolos Papoulias to iron out differences. Samaras had earlier said he was “determined to help” reach an agreement as long as the premier stepped down first. Samaras had previously demanded early elections and balked at joining forces with Papandreou’s socialist Pasok party even if the premier resigned.
I presume he will resign at some point soon and the likelihood is that the Finance Minister will take over. However, one cannot simply disregard the Leader of the Not So Loyal Opposition.

UPDATE: Apparently,
Greece’s two main political parties reached an agreement Sunday to form a unity government, giving Europe a steadier partner as it works to avert a larger financial crisis on the continent. Prime Minister George Papandreou will resign after the new government is formed, officials said, although the timing, and his successor, remained unclear.
But, otherwise, as Chico and Groucho Marx say in A Night at the Opera, we have a deal.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

I see he is still there

Staying away from the internet ought to mean that some exciting changes might happen somewhere or other. But no, Prime Minister George Papandreou is still there.
George Papandreou won by 153 votes to 144 after announcing he intended to hold power-sharing talks from Saturday and signalled that he was ready to quit after two years in power.
Just a minute. Wasn't he ready to go if he wins the vote immediately? But then he has been about to resign for almost as long as he has been Prime Minister. Then again, is he really in power?

To be fair, others think that he is about to resign after negotiating a government of (some) unity. Reuters says:
Papandreou told parliament that he would go to the Greek president on Saturday to discuss formation of a broader-based government that would secure the euro zone bailout, adding that he was willing to discuss who would head a new administration.
The leader of the opposition, Antonis Samaras, still thinks that there ought to be an election not a unity government and it looks like Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos may well be the one to take over if Papandreou actually does resign this time.

Friday, November 4, 2011


What can one say?

Good money after bad

The G20 is over and, not unexpectedly, the outcome is to boost IMF resources for further bail-outs "to boost growth and rebalance the global economy". Details to be announced and the plans to be put into place by February 2012. Well, a lot of things can happen between now and then but if these plans are put into place and if HMG agrees (which it will, as the Boy-King has made clear) then there will be a vote in the Commons. How will all our rebels vote then and how many of them will go through both lobbies in order to acquire a reputation without paying the price?

France and Germany are also in favour of a financial transaction tax and, according to Sarko, hope it will be implemented in 2012, presumably before the French presidential elections. As far as we know HMG is against this idea that is likely to cripple the City but boost governmental income for a little while.

One more day of Greece

There are other things to write about and I shall do so very very soon but there is one more day of the Greek farce to get through before life returns to normal.

14.45 Result of confidence vote expected late this evening, possibly around 10 pm our time. It is timed to avoid any reaction in the markets though I don't think the US ones will be closed yet. Certainly the European ones will be for the week-end. The vote looks like being close though it appears that a number of PASOK MPs may go back to supporting Papandreou now that the notion of the referendum has been abandoned.

Reuters adds that
But the future of the 130 billion euro deal remained hostage to wrangling among Greek politicians, much to the disgust of voters living through dire economic times.
One thing we can say for certain: whichever way the vote goes, the problems will not be solved and the crisis will be postponed rather than averted.

12. 20 Prime Minister George Papandreou (a hereditary prime minister) is facing that long-heralded vote of confidence and, according to Sky, is ready to resign if MPs back him tonight. Now there's an offer of a bribe that is hard to resist. If they vote against him, on the other hand,
Greece could be plunged into further uncertainty and a snap election.

That may mean it would not be in a position to receive the next slice of bailout funds it desperately needs to avoid defaulting on its loans.
He is clearly using the carrot and stick approach.

>Meanwhile, as it has been pointed out, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos is becoming a serious contender.

EUObserver reports that the austerity measures are beginning to have a very harmful effect on the most vulnerable in Greece.
It is unheard of for aid groups such as Medecins Sans Frontieres or Medicins du Monde to have to take over the role of providing basic medical services from normal state or private providers in a Western country.

But in the era of ever-tightening EU-IMF austerity, that is what is happening in Greece now, as the unemployed and HIV patients begin to turn up at temporary clinics that had been intended to come to the aid of migrants and refugees.

According to Apostolos Veizis, the head of programmes for MSF Greece, this is the new reality that the country is waking up to.
The trouble with the story is that it seems to be based on an interview or discussion with Apostolos Veizis, the head of programmes for MSF Greece, who is an interested party in this. I should like to see some accounts of what is happening from people who are not in the business of raising money for their own organizations or providing support for the view that Greece should not be asked to introduce any austerity measures or even reforms.

In the meantime, let us not forget Italy, probable scene of the next crisis that is likely to be big enough to engulf the whole of the eurozone and, probably, the EU. According to Reuters, whose coverage yesterday was the most reliable, as it turned out
Italy, under fierce pressure from financial markets and European peers, agreed to have the IMF monitor its progress with long delayed reforms of pensions, labor markets and privatization, senior EU sources said on Friday.
Riots in Italy? Berlusconi talks of a referendum then decides not to go ahead? Election in Italy? More riots? Just speculating.

Fifty-five years ago

The tanks came back to Budapest on November 4, 1956

Thursday, November 3, 2011

New post on Greece

This will now be updated as and when anything is known in such a way that people can see the latest first. Even I can work that out.

15.28 Prime Minister's statement says that there will be no referendum and he probably never intended to have one.
Greece's Prime Minister has told Sky News the referendum on the the eurozone bailout plan will no longer go ahead - and it was never his intention for it to happen.

"The referendum was never an end in itself," George Papandreou told the cabinet according to statements released by his office.

"We had a dilemma - either true assent or a referendum. I said yesterday, if the assent were there, we would not need a referendum."

Mr Papandreou had been under pressure to stand down, as a split emerged in his government over the plans to hold a public vote on the rescue deal.

He now says he has no intention to quit, but will hold talks with the opposition over their calls for a transitional government and early elections.

However, he warned against holding elections in the near future - as this would entail a "big risk of bankruptcy".
Presumably, the confidence vote will go ahead and if the Greek Parliament still has any confidence in the Prime Minister then they deserve all they get.

Here is an English (after a fashion) version of Mr Papandreou's statement. Mind you, I don't suppose it's any more comprehensible in Greek.

15.07 Reuters live update says at 2.58 that referendum is unlikely to go ahead but the confidence vote is. Just before that it was reported that Prime Minister Papandreou is still opposing election and saying that eurozone membership is not in question. I call that whistling in the dark.

14.50 Referendum seems to have been cancelled, according to Sky.

14.33 Still only calls for Papandreou to resign. The BBC is withdrawing its earlier report.
Earlier the BBC reported that the prime minister was preparing to offer his resignation.

But state TV later reported that he had ruled this out during the meeting.

The opposition New Democracy party has said it would accept taking part in a coalition government if Mr Papandreou agreed to stand down.
Reuters was right.

In the meantime, here is an analysis of the situation by Allister Heath, who says that "Europe" is finally giving up on Greece.
Many in Brussels are livid at Papandreou’s decision to ask the people what they think, always a no-no to undemocratic elites. But European taxpayers are also rightly angry; as far as they are concerned, beggars cannot be choosers and Greece should either do what it is told or be thrown out. The arrogance of those who believe that they are entitled to live beyond their means forever, courtesy of taxpayers in harder-working, less corrupt economies, is indeed extraordinarily galling. The Germans and many others would undoubtedly vote to throw Greece out of the EU if they were given the choice in a referendum.

The Eurozone’s main aim now will be to contain the fallout from any Greek default and withdrawal from the euro. The value of Greek assets (land, equity and debt) redenominated in a new drachma would slump 70-80 per cent. Combined with inevitable capital controls, social collapse and mass nationalisation, the chaos would inflict huge losses on all companies with operations in the country. The European Central Bank itself may become insolvent as its Greek government bonds would become near-worthless. It too may require recapitalisation. Yet it would undoubtedly provide liquidity to those hit by the write-offs; the printing presses would go into over-drive.
Read the whole piece.

Al-Jazeera says more or less the same thing - the eurozone leaders have had enough. After all, they have an electorate to think about, as well. I cannot understand why anyone should be surprised by that. The really surprising thing is that this farce has been allowed to go on for this long.

13.23 Commission insists that you cannot leave the eurozone without leaving the EU but the spokeswoman does not cite the relevant Articles. Greek Cabinet still seems to be in session.

Back to Greece

It seemed all set yesterday. The Prime Minister of Luxembourg announced the date of the Greek referendum (December 4 or 5) not waiting for the parliamentary vote of confidence or the Greek President to do the necessary and George Papandreou was told by Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy that Greece cannot have any more money until they sort this mess out. (EUReferendum was being updates as it happened.) That should concentrate their minds, thought I.

Came the morn and the situation has changed. It seems that Papandreou's government may fall tomorrow or even today and he might be removed from being PASOK's leader. The Guardian says
The Greek government stands on the point of collapse, with the country set for a general election over membership of the euro rather than the referendum planned for early December.

Calls for a national unity government embracing the opposition also intensified as EU political leaders and financial markets demanded an end to the regional uncertainty unleashed by a small country on the periphery of the eurozone and called for measures to prevent a slide into Europe-wide slump.

George Papandreou called an emergency meeting of his cabinet for noon local time (10am GMT) on Thursday after his finance minister broke ranks over the referendum and several socialist deputies quit or threatened to quit his Pasok bloc in parliament.

Papandreou's political survival both as prime minister and head of the Pasok party will be determined by the cabinet meeting. Filing into parliament for the session MPs said they would listen to the leader's assessment of the Cannes meeting before they "made up their minds" as to whether to back the confidence motion.
A government of national unity, eh? Now that really will sort them out. What will the armed forces say?

Reuters says that the Prime Minister has not resigned and, according to his chief of staff, "does not intend to". Certainly not. The link will take you to an "as it happens" thread on the news agency's site, produced in delightfully old-fashioned typewritten scroll.

UPDATE: It seems that the Greek Cabinet is still in session (oh to be a fly on the wall with adequate knowledge of Greek) but the odds are not good for the Prime Minister.
Greek state television says Mr Papandreou will meet Greek President Karolos Papoulias immediately after the cabinet talks.

The BBC's Mark Lowen, in Athens, says Mr Papandreou is expected to offer a coalition government with a former vice-president of the European Central Bank, Lucas Papademos, at the helm.

Mr Papandreou himself is expected to step aside, our correspondent says.

He says three Pasok MPs have now said they will not vote for Mr Papandreou in the confidence motion on Friday.

Several others, including government ministers, have criticised the referendum plan, calling instead for Mr Papandreou to resign or for a government of national unity.
Meanwhile, I note that the worship of plebiscite goes on with numerous eurosceptics making a hero out of a crafty, self-serving politician.

UPDATE: BBC says Papandreou will offer to resign.
He is expected to offer a coalition government, with former Greek central banker Lucas Papademos at the helm.
The Cabinet meeting appears to be still going on.

UPDATE (12.52): Cabinet meeting still going on and the colleagues are considering a eurozone without Greece. Ought to have done that a long time ago.

On another front

Taking time out from the Greek farce (I wonder when the satyrs, so indispensable to a farce, will appear) this blog wishes to call attention to the appalling case of the satirical journal in France that has been fire bombed for the appalling sin of laughing at Islam. Making fun of religion has been the prerogative of every French journalist since the days of Voltaire and is certainly taken seriously by the French literary establishment.

Well, mostly. When Charlie Hebdo transgressed last time by publishing those Danish cartoons (which the British main-stream media would not do)
Jacques Chirac, then the president, called it a “manifest provocation”. “Anything that can wound the convictions of others should be avoided,” he declared.
In my previous existence as co-editor of EUReferendum, I wrote about the subsequent legal case here and here. The legal case failed so the freedom-loving opponents of Charlie Hebdo have decided on another tactic. This time they annoyed even the French political establishment.
François Fillon, the centre-right prime minister, not only denounced the attack, but declared that “freedom of expression is an inalienable value”. Bertrand Delanoë, the Socialist mayor of Paris, deplored the “act of violence against the freedom of expression”.
French Muslim leaders are indulging in the kind of double talk we are sadly used to:
Mohammed Moussaoui, leader of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, an official body, condemned the attack, and stated his “profound attachment” to freedom of expression. But he also “strongly deplored the very caricatural tone” of the newspaper towards Islam.
Charlie Hebdo is satirical about everyone. That is what they do - they publish satire. Some people laugh, some shrug their shoulders, some get angry and some .... fire bomb offices and demand victim status on top of it.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Beware Greeks bearing constitutions

Right, let's sort this out. According to Bruno Waterfield, as quoted by this blog (and elsewhere) yesterday, Prime Minister George Papandreou is unlikely to call that referendum because he will need three-fifths of parliamentarians to vote for it and that is highly unlikely to happen. According to the Grauniad, as quoted by EUReferendum, not so. A battle of hacks, with the Torygraph lining up in expertise against the Grauniad.

It would appear that Mr Waterfield consulted the 1975 text of the Greek Constitution, in which Article 44(2) says:
(2) After a decision taken by a three fifths majority of the total number of the members of the Parliament, in accordance to a proposition of the Cabinet, the President of the Republic shall proclaim by a decree referenda on national questions of crucial importance. After a decision taken by a three fifths majority of the total number of the members of the Parliament, following a proposition of the two fifths thereof, the President of the Republic shall proclaim by a decree referenda on bills passed by the Parliament regarding serious social issues, with the exception of fiscal bills, in accordance to the Regulation of Parliament and a law regulating the application of this Paragraph. The proposition of more than one referendum on bills in the same Parliamentary Term is prohibited.
Having read it through about six times I think I have understood what it says and, according to this, the Torygraph's expertise wins.

Then we find that a highly respected source says otherwise. In this paper, published by Democracy International we find the following paragraph:
National referenda are regulated by the Greek Constitution (Article 44(2)), which provides for two categories:

1) Referenda on “crucial national issues,” following a proposal by the government and
approved by the absolute majority of the Parliament, or

2) Referenda on passed laws regulating “serious social issues,” upon a vote by 3/5 of the Parliament following a proposal submitted by 2/5 of the Parliament. A maximum of two proposals for such referenda can be submitted during the same parliamentary
term (normally of four years), and they cannot concern the State’s fiscal issues.

What constitutes a “crucial national issue” or a “serious social issue” is a political question left at the complete discretion of the abovementioned organs of the State.
The authors then add that constitutional amendments are not subject to referenda [sic] and, in fact, none have been held since the restoration of democratic government in 1975.

A conundrum there and very typical of a dysfunctional Balkan state. Checking another text of the Greek Constitution, I find that, indeed, the paper is correct:
* 2. The President of the Republic shall by decree proclaim a referendum on crucial national matters following a resolution voted by an absolute majority of the total number of Members of Parliament, taken upon proposal of the Cabinet.

A referendum on Bills passed by Parliament regulating important social matters, with the exception of the fiscal ones shall be proclaimed by decree by the President of the Republic, if this is decided by three-fifths of the total number of its members, following a proposal of two-fifths of the total number of its members, and as the Standing Orders and the law for the application of the present paragraph provide. No more than two proposals to hold a referendum on a Bill can be introduced in the same parliamen- tary term.

Should a Bill be voted, the time-limit stated in article 42 paragraph 1 begins the day the referendum is held.
One would assume that in this case the reason for the proposed plebiscite referendum would be that it is a crucial national matter and an absolute majority, i.e. a simple majority of the total Members of Parliament would be sufficient. We have to assume that if some members do not vote or are away and the absolute majority is not attained, the proposal falls.

Reading through the text I noted that several Articles, including this one, were starred. Could they have been amended or introduced in 1986 when the whole Constitution was amended? Indeed so, as we find in this work (discovered by the Boss on the other side of the blogospheric divide).

The amendments to the Constitution were introduced after several years of political and parliamentary instability in Greece (surely not!). On pages 68 and 69 some of the details are elucidated. The main point from our perspective is that the President, on proposal from the Cabinet can declare a plebiscite if there is an absolute majority in Parliament for it.

That, presumably, is Prime Minister Papandreou's plan. There are a few obstacles in the way. One is the confidence vote this Friday, which he will probably win, if narrowly, especially if he plays the "heroic democrat and patriot" card. Then, presumably, there has to be that vote for a referendum and the need to get an absolute majority. That may prove to be more difficult. Then, of course, comes the referendum itself and the question of which is more convenient to the Prime Minister, a 'yes' vote or a 'no' vote.

What happens if the plan falls either at the first or the second hurdle and Mr Papandreou does not get to hold a referendum, being forced, instead, into an election he desperately does not want? Well, that remains anybody's guess but the President, allow me to remind readers, after consultation with the Council of the Republic can dissolve parliament in extreme circumstances. And that brings us back to that vexed question of the replaced officers.

The worship of the plebiscite

The concept of referendum has now become an object of worship for some people, complete with religious hysteria. Is this because the CofE has once again shown itself to be somewhat inadequate? Would it still work if we called it a plebiscite? Plebiscite is a nasty word that implies in its sound something that is done against the people, probably by conniving politicians for their own career.

Referendum is so very different. For one thing we cannot agree what its plural should be. Is it referenda because it is a Latin word or is it referendums because as a nominative noun it is an English word? Enough to make one feel that we are discussing something truly profound.

Then there is Switzerland where, as we know, they have referendums (my preferred nominative plural) all the time. We should do the same. There are, as it happens, differences between the Swiss system of referendums being called by the citizens of either a canton or the whole state and the plebiscites (no other way of putting it) decided on by governments and defined by them. The Swiss system evolved over centuries and simply trying to replicate one small aspect of it (the number of referendums) is not very useful.

All this leads us to Greece where, to our immense astonishment, evidence has emerged that Prime Minister George Papandreou (and, incidentally, there is a reason why so many Greek politicians are called Papandreou) has been planning this referendum for some time, possibly because he believes in the people having a final say in something or other or, more probably, because his own position has been somewhat tenuous for some months. EUReferendum traces the history of the development, rightly calling it Not Such A Surprise.

Even the Boss can't predict the next twist in the Greek farce (they wrote those as well but they were largely obscene) and freely admits it. (Ha! Don't often hear those words.) There is the confidence vote on Friday and Papandreou might well lose it even if he screams as loudly as he can that getting rid of him now is tantamount to depriving the people of their right to have a say. The answer to that is that getting rid of him would give the people the right to vote for another government and the answer to that is .... Well, you can write that exchange yourselves.

Then there is the peculiar episode of the military top brass, who has been replaced by Papa-friendly officers. What exactly does that mean? Not enough attention is being paid to the story, in my opinion.

It comes to something when the BBC rejoices in what they call Democracy versus the eurozone. One wonders whether they will be so strongly pro-democracy in other circumstances. For instance, will they, in the name of democracy give UKIP and others of that ilk equal say?

One must admit the piece is full of silliness though the quote from the ineffable Sarko is priceless:
giving people a voice is always legitimate but the solidarity of all eurozone countries is not possible unless each one agrees to measures deemed necessary.
So much for French notions of accountable government. But then we knew that.

I am not impressed by the BBC and many others bleating about Greek love of and pride in their democracy. Modern Greek history does not support that argument (and neither does Ancient Greek history, if it comes to that). Shall we just skip that and assume that Greece is a dysfunctional Balkan state whose people had no trouble whatsoever with the EU controlling it as long as that control involved lots of money handed over in one form or another with not too many strings attached. In fact, they would continue to have no trouble with getting endless bail-outs as long as they are not expected to do something about their spendthrift and non-productive economy. As I said yesterday a nation of petulant adolescents is not a pleasant sight.

It seems likely that Papandreou, if he is still there next week (and let us not forget those military changes) will organize a referendum in which acceptance of the package will be linked to membership of the eurozone. That, one assumes, will ensure a 'yes' vote as the Greeks do not really want to come out of the euro and take full responsibility for their economic mess. Now that really would cause austerity and shortages.

Is that what Papa wants? Maybe. Much depends on when that referendum is and how the question(s) is/are phrased. And before that, much depends on Friday's parliamentary vote. In the meantime, I have no doubt, they hysterical worship of the pagan god REFERENDUM will continue. I think I shall start referring to it as plebiscite. That'll show them. Oh, and the crisis will be resumed within weeks of whatever the Greek plebiscite vote might be, assuming there is one and, assuming it is about the eurozone and the bail-out package and not about giving Prime Minister Papandreou extraordinary powers.