Friday, March 30, 2012

Those results in full

Wikipedia gives the full results of the Bradford West by-election. A 50 per cent turn out is lower than that in the general election but is, nevertheless, very high for a by-election in an urban area. I should like to know what proportion of that was not people turning out but using the infamous postal vote system.

There is no question about it: Galloway's victory is spectacular though to call it the most important political victory in British history is hyperbole of the most ridiculous kind. So far as anyone can make out there was a combination of dissatisfaction with the main parties and the internal politicking of a particular minority group. The event is not a happy one for Labour, who were convinced that the seat was theirs (no harm in them learning otherwise) and according to Guido Fawkes, the recriminations and calls for purges have started already. And so I should think.

As it happens, I do not agree with the Boss on EURef: there is no evidence so far that this was a wide-spread "real" rebellion but a refusal by a certain group of people to look beyond their own community and their own so-called leaders. Galloway has benefited from that unofficial apartheid, which has become too settled in some parts of the country. The result may be unpleasant for the main parties but can be dismissed because of that after the initial soul-searching is over.

Had it been UKIP winning the rebellion would have been real and worrying for the political establishment. Alas, UKIP has increased its share of the vote but has not saved its deposit or managed to beat the Lib-Dims. So, that's that. No winners except for the unspeakable Galloway and his friends, the Imams of Bradford West. Whether they or the Muslim community there will benefit from this result is very questionable.

Galloway is back in the Commons

It seems that Galloway has won in Bradford West. The BBC story gives no details. I don't think the people of that constituency will get much out of it - when Galloway was Respect MP for Bethnal Green he was hardly ever seen in the House of Commons.

Press Association looks at things skew-whiff

To be honest, I am not that bothered by the Bradford West by-election though the results (including the turn-out) will be moderately interesting. However, I was slightly surprised by the story that Press Association put up this evening.
Polls have closed in the Bradford West by-election with eyes on how badly voters might punish the Tories after a fraught week for David Cameron and the Tory-led coalition Government.
Labour went into the day as overwhelming favourite to retain a seat that Marsha Singh - who has stood down due to ill-health - held with an increased majority of 5,763 when the party lost power in 2010.
But the contest was given extra spice by anti-war maverick George Galloway's bid to repeat his 2005 feat of snatching a seat from the party that expelled him.
Word is now that Galloway might have won in which case it is not the Tories were being punished. Even if he comes a close second to Labour, it will still not be the Tories who will be punished. Even if the Tory vote collapses, Galloway's votes will be taken from Labour.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Show time

Today I acquired a DVD of Sun Valley Serenade, a truly silly musical with the most superb performances by the Glenn Miller orchestra, Sonia Heine on ice, the Nicholas Brothers, Dorothy Dandridge and Lynn Bari (well, Lorraine Elliott, who is singing Elmer's Tune here).
  And here is that famous Chattanooga-Choo-Choo sequence:

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Small turmoil in Iceland - all well

According to our friend Hjörtur J. Guðmundsson of Iceland and the European Union,
Joining the European Union is in a total turmoil - simply because the support for it keeps decreasing.
Actually, he is not the one to say it: he is quoting "Egill Helgason, a prominent talk show host at the Icelandic state broadcaster which has been known for talking positively about an Icelandic EU membership".

Popular opinion is ever stronger in its opposition to EU membership and how can one blame them. There is some apprehension that negotiations with the EU will not finish before the next general election that will very possibly bring in a completely anti-EU government. Then the Icelanders will have a membership agreement, no government to recommend it and public opinion opposing it. In fact, it will be all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Food labels again

Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked HMG in a Written Question:
why there is no requirement to label halal meat in shops and restaurants; and what steps they propose to take to inform consumer choice in this area.
As we know from the Boss on EURef it is easier for supermarkets to tell slaughterhouses (of which we have far fewer because of various EU regulations severely gold-plated by successive British governments) to slaughter everything the halal way. This is, of course, outrageous as many people have no desire to eat halal meat but are given no choice and no information. (Incidentally, I have been told that numerous imams have stated that it is not against Muslim law to stun animals before they are slaughtered but there is a disagreement on the subject.)

So what can HMG, what can anybody do to ensure that information is available. Not a lot, it seems, and I am sure readers of this blog are not surprised as it has been a constant theme that food labelling is EU competence.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach or his minions at DEFRA replied:
The Government believe that people should know what they are buying in shops or when they are eating out. An amendment to require food labels to indicate whether an animal has been stunned before slaughter was proposed last year by the European Parliament in the context of proposals for an EU food information for consumers regulation. This proposal was not taken up, but in subsequent discussions a compromise agreement was reached that highlighted the importance of this issue and proposed that it should be considered by the EU Commission in a welfare context as part of the anticipated discussion on the EU welfare strategy.
The Government support this approach, as it will allow consumer information to be considered alongside measures to minimise the suffering of animals slaughtered without stunning. The Commission has recently published its proposed Welfare Strategy for 2012-15 and has confirmed it will be studying the issue of labelling as provided for in last year's agreement on the food information for consumers regulation. The Government welcome this approach and we look forward to receiving further proposals from the Commission. In the mean time we are considering how we can use domestic legislation.
So, errm, the proposal that this information should be available was thrown out and instead a "compromise" was agreed on, which said that it is very important and we are going to talk about it some more. And there is nothing we can do about it because we have to do what the Commission and the European Parliament, not to mention the Council of Ministers, decide on. But do not worry: there will be lots more discussions and HMG thinks that is a jolly good idea.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

And another point

We have now restored the blogger system of comments, which is very easy to use. Therefore, nobody has any excuse for remaining anonymous, a discourteous way of discussing and debating. Please put a name to your comments so we can identify the person behind them in some way. I do not insist on your own name if, for whatever reason, you feel like putting up a barrier between yourself and the discussion but a moniker is advisable. I shall return to my previous habit of ignoring all anonymous comments.

Not sure what is more disturbing

1.) That the President of the United States assumes that his election is as much of a given as that of the "re-elected" President of Russia.


2.) That the President of the United States hastily promises things to the temporary President of Russia that are clearly not in the interests of his own country as long as he is given "space" by the real President of Russia.


3.) That the President of the United States is one of those dumb politicians who are incapable of checking whether the mike near them is still open when they make comments they don't want the world to hear. 

I leave it to this blog's readers to work it out

Monday, March 26, 2012

Big business loves big state - shock

This article is about American history and American politics but mutatis mutandis, it applies to us. Big business, as anyone who has really been involved in a fight against unnecessary regulations, of the British, the European or the joint variety, knows, loves them until they find themselves one to one against the state, having disposed of any competition through legal means. Even then various deals can be struck.

Furthermore, in the US, as here, it is assumed that developments through the unholy alliance of big corporate and state welfare are the only possibilities. Nothing else could ever have happened and that suits the statists just fine. Well, it ain't necessarily so. If we are to get out of the mess we are all in (and no, it is not as bad as the mess Russia and some other former Soviet states are in) then we need to look at various alternatives that existed or had been proposed. We might not like them but let us look at them.

Oh and while we are on the subject, I received a copy of Eamonn Butler's latest publication, Public Choice - A Primer. It will be read and reviewed.

Friday, March 23, 2012

And it all goes marching on

Sometimes it is easy to forget that no matter what might be mouldering in politics or the grave, the EU goes marching on, though I have doubts whether it has a soul.

So, here are a couple of items that might be of interest to some people. The 2010 Budget is going through the European Parliament. Let us note, in parenthesis, the utterly lunatic character of the system in which the Budget is not signed off till a couple of years after the money had been spent.

Anyway, it seems that some MEPs, in particular Jan Mulder a Dutch Liberal MEP, quaintly described by the European Voice, as "a veteran of the [budgetary control] committee", are urging their colleagues not to grant discharge to the budget. And suppose they don't? Do we get the money back? I think not. In any case, it seems unlikely that the discharge will not be granted. The Toy Parliament has never quibbled about a few billions being lost or mis-spent here and there.

Meanwhile the European Commission is looking to a tightening up of the posting-of-workers law to ensure that unions cannot complain about the fact that basic Single Market rules collide with certain assumptions about their rights, such as the right to strike. We have moved some way from that glorious moment when the TUC Congress was promised by, I believe, no less a person than Jacques Delors that the Thatcherite reforms will be rolled back.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A visitor

As it is warm enough to keep the back door open, at least some of the time, visitors arrive. At least it was not one of those greedy squirrels, one of whom once stole an almost whole bar of Black and Green cherry chocolate. I hope it was very sick. Oh and they eat avocado pips. However, this visitor seemed well behaved.

A few general comments about the Budget

There was an e-mail from George Osborne in my inbox; addressing me as Dear Helen, he explained at some length how radical his Budget is. First of all, I had not realized we were on those terms and, secondly, I do not think that kind of over-the-top description of a pretty so-so Budget is appropriate.

Immediate reactions were predictable: Tories whoopped with joy and called it brilliant, those on the left screamed with horror, smokers talked darkly about fascism (like they know what the word means) and the rest of us were left bemused for a while then realized that it was not radical, not brilliant, not evil but an itsy-bitsy, give a little - take a little kind of Budget. Some good ideas, some not so good ones, most things postponed till next year and nothing very daring or brilliant.

There have been a few rational analyses from the Adam Smith Institute, from the IEA and from Reform via Reuters (this being less coherent than the other two). None of them are impressed though acknowledge that there are some good things. I'd say that Osborne is displaying an almost Brown-like obsession with micro-management and dislike for people who make money.

Anyway, discussions about the Budget will go on till at least Sunday though the news from Toulouse and, possibly, China might eclipse them.

A few general points need to be made, however. Osborne's proposed regulation on tax avoidance (which is entirely legal) shows that he is one of those who believes that money basically belongs to the government and we all have a duty to hand over as much of it as they require at any given time, this duty being moral as well as legal.

As the statement from the ASI put it:
The General Anti-Avoidance Rule is a bad idea. It leaves far too much latitude for bureaucratic discretion. It adds another layer of complexity on our labyrinthine tax code. And it is an affront to the rule of law. Radically simplifying taxes is a much better way of ensuring people pay their fair share.
That, however, appears to be contrary not just to the Chancellor's thinking but to that of many others inside and outside the political world. I took part in a number of discussions today with people (many of whom are in not so radical UKIP) who solemnly announced that if there are tax cuts then the money has to be replaced from somewhere else. When asked why they thought the government absolutely had to have this money and spend it on all those projects they sounded stunned. The idea that perhaps the state should not be spending quite such a large proportion of our money and that, perhaps, it would be better if some things the state spends money on now were actually taken out of its greedy grasp was completely alien to their way of thinking.

Then there were the other discussions with people who fulminated about "greedy bastards" who did not "pay their fair share" and did not "give back to society from which they had benefited". Really, it is as if people like  Hayek, Ayn Rand or Milton Friedman had never written their various seminal works.

People, I explained, who create wealth and make money do not benefit in some unspecified way from society and their best contribution to it is to continue to create wealth. (And, no, I did not believe the assurances that the people who were arguing with me never, never avoided paying all the taxes they could have paid if they did not take certain precautions.)

Even more astonishing were the many assurances that paying taxes in order to support the NHS, the education system and the welfare structure was essential if we wanted to live in a humane and civilized society. It was our contribution to such a society. The idea that people could look at the questionable NHS, the disgraceful education system and a welfare state that has created a huge underclass and call it civilized and humane seemed quite extraordinary. Almost as extraordinary as the assumption that paying taxes is the only way of contributing to the welfare of other people otherwise it is dog eat dog and an I'm all right Jack attitude.

It is at times like this that I despair for this country.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Meanwhile ...

.... out in the big bad world there are rumours of a possible coup (by whom,one wonders) in Beijing.
Since Bo Xilai, one of China’s most powerful leaders, was removed from his job last Thursday,the bureaucracy and the public have been on tenterhooks, awaiting the next twist in the gripping political saga.
Besides a one-line statement on Mr Bo’s dismissal published late last week, China’s heavily censored media have not mentioned his name, let alone provided any clues about what will happen to him.
But the country’s netizens, in particular those using hard-to-censor Twitter-like microblogs, have been flooding the internet with information ranging from highly implausible to apparently authentic.
In one rumour that spread rapidly on Monday night, a military coup had been launched by Zhou Yongkang, an ally of Mr Bo’s and the man in charge of China’s state security apparatus, and gun battles had erupted in Zhongnanhai, the top leadership compound in the heart of Beijing.
But when the Financial Times drove past the compound late on Monday night, all appeared calm and by Wednesday evening there was no indication that anything was out of the ordinary.
But when the Financial Times drove past the compound late on Monday night, all appeared calm and by Wednesday evening there was no indication that anything was out of the ordinary.
As the Wall Street Journal reports
China's social-media services, which had allowed wide discussion of controversial politician Bo Xilai since his ouster last week, are now cracking down on searches for his name, as his downfall seems to have put much of the country on edge and given rise to fevered rumors of political infighting.
So we may not be able to find out much for a while. Needless to say, there is nothing on the Xinhua website.

Yes we have comments

We are now back on the Blogger comment system, which can be used by all. Thanks to our brilliant technical staff (North Jnr) previous comments have been saved as well.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Thanks to Anoneumouse and Bad Example we can work out what the problem is with comments on this blog. It would appear that JS-Kit is now going to charge people for using their comment system or lose all the comments. Except that they did not bother to tell anyone. Comments simply stopped appearing and, presumably, the expectation was that we would all ask what is happening and then pay up. Well, sorry, no. I fear all existing comments will be lost but since we can't read them on the blog, anyway, it matters little. And within the next couple of weeks the blogger comment service will be reinstalled. It will probably make commenting easier as well.

What's sauce for the goose ...

There is a battle going on in the EU about sanctions to be imposed on Belarus and its unquestionably oppressive and kleptocratic government.
Mid-level diplomats will this week discuss who else to add to the Belarus sanctions list when EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels on Friday (23 March).

EUobserver understands the provisional roll-call includes oligarch Yuriy Chizh, several companies owned by another regime billionaire, Vladimir Peftivev and a handful of officials. Peftiev is already under a visa ban and asset freeze, along with three of his firms - a decision he is currently fighting in the EU court in Luxembourg.

"You wouldn't believe how many [people] have come through here," a senior EU official told this website on the queue of NGOs, diplomats and companies telling him in recent weeks why Peftiev should be let off.
The article lists various reasons why Peftiev probably should stay on that list if there is such a list but also mentions that among various organizations that are arguing for his removal is at least one supposedly "anti-Lukashenka" NGO.
"I have not seen any evidence that Peftiev should be on the list. It's the police, the KGB, and the judges that should be on it," a contact from one Prague-based 'anti-Lukashenko' NGO told this website. A Brussels-based 'anti-Lukashenko' NGO recently sent a letter to EU officials containing 25 names - including Peftiev - of people who it says were put on the register unjustly.
This blog's opinion is that it is probably best not to take sides in the murky dealings between government, NGOs and oligarchs unless there is clear-cut evidence one way or another. Certainly, Vladimir Peftivev seems to be up to his eyes in business that, at least, in principle we in the West do not approve of:
He is the majority shareholder and chairman of Beltechexport, the country's largest weapons manufacturer. It makes aircraft, armoured vehicles and small arms. But its main business is to act as a middleman between Russian arms firms and dictators in Africa, Central Asia, south-east Asia and South America. The US says it has sold weapons to Iran and North Korea.

"It would be a further blow to [Russian President] Putin's reputation to have Russia sell its own weapons directly to these regimes in violation of international prohibitions. So Belarus does it for him," Stanislav Shushkevich, a former Belarusian head of state, told EUobserver.
I am not convinced Soon-To-Be-President Putin cares all that much about his reputation about selling arms "in violation of international prohibitions". It is not as if there was any mystery about the fact that he sanctions the operations or, at the very least, shrugs his shoulders in a typically Russian way.

What has caused a certain amount of distress is the role of Latvia and Slovenia.
EU diplomats say Latvia has now joined Slovenia in trying to protect him.

The two countries are willing to agree to the new EU sanctions but only if selected Chizh companies, which do business with their own firms, are left alone. In one example, Chizh is working with a Slovenian company, Riko Group, to build a luxury hotel and electrical sub-stations worth €157 million.
Latvia is barely emerging from a severe economic crisis and there may be a feeling that economic sanctions against firms that are willing to invest in the country is not a very good idea. Slovenia may look with some trepidation at other eurozone countries.

No, this blog is not advocating dealings with clearly dishonest firms from countries where the overwhelming proportion of the economy is owned by an oppressive kleptocracy that passes for a state. On the other hand, it might be a good idea to look at the way other countries behave.

Belarus is not the only country with those problems; there is another one, a larger one slightly further to the east. Is Germany likely to participate in any kind of sanction against Russia? Is Britain, come to think of it?

We can see the answer to that, if we look at the appalling Magnitsky case (about which I shall write in greater detail). Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer for a British firm, tried to prevent its theft and the use it was put to to steal many millions of rubles from the Russian treasury by various members of the FSB and the Ministry of Finance. For his pains he was imprisoned, kept in confinement for a year, tortured and, finally, murdered. The names of the people who were involved in the theft and Magnitsky's murder are known and it would be easy to put them on a list of people who are not allowed into this country together with their immediate families. The FCO is refusing to do so because a move of that kind might prejudice Anglo-Russian business links.

I cannot help thinking that the expulsion of British businessmen, the theft of their company to be used for fraudulent tax rebate and the murder of their employee ought to prejudice those relations more but, apparently, the FCO thinks otherwise.

ADDENDUM: This, on the other hand, is inexcusable, no matter what decision our own despicable FCO might take:
Long before Lithuania and Poland handed over confidential information to Belarusian authorities which led to Bialistki's arrest, Natalia had begun preparing herself for what she saw as the inevitable day when police would drag him off.

Alex Bialitski is a Belarusian human rights activist, leader of the group Viasna (Spring), who is serving a four and a half year sentence of hard labour.
For the past 15 years, Viasna has provided practical support for families and victims of political oppression. It is one of the few voices that still makes itself heard in the cacophony and white noise of President Alexander Lukashenko's regime. Every year it publishes a book-length analysis of human rights violations in Belarus. Every year it gets longer.

It has a long history of run-ins with the KGB.

When it was banned from receiving international funding, it opened bank accounts under Bialistki's name in Lithuania and Poland. In March last year, authorities in both countries handed over those very bank account details to Belarus.

Ausra Bernotiene, the former head of the international law department at Lithuania's ministry of justice, who delivered the information, has since resigned and now heads the international relations unit at Lithuania's national court administration.
There are, apparently, people who think her decision had been a genuine mistake and she was made a scapegoat when the whole mess was uncovered. A mistake of that kind would indicate a complete inability to understand the international situation and a complete unfitness for any position to do with international affairs. Given the position Ms Bernotiene ended up with, scapegoat is not precisely the word I would use. Let us also consider the fact that her husband is partner in a legal firm that does extensive business with Belarus.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Great things are expected ....

... from the new German President, Joachim Gauck, former Pastor in East Germany (as was Chancellor Merkel's father) also civil rights campaigner before the fall of the Wall and former head of the huge Stasi archive where many itneresting things were discovered by many people.

The post of the President has traditionally been little more than ceremonial but there is a feeling that Herr Gauck might use the position to promote certain political values like freedom and democracy. Given that there has been the odd disagreement over certain EU treaties and proposals though the German Constitutional Court managed, with increasing difficulty, to find a compromise each time, an active and opinionated President will be interesting to watch.


There is some problem with the comments. They do not seem to show up on the blog and I do not know why. Questions have been addressed to the technical staff, i.e. North Jnr but problem has not been solved yet. I can actually see the comments on Blogger but that is of little use to this blog and its readers. My apologies.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Let me just say two things about Iceland

Firstly, that Iceland is doing rather nicely, thank you financially and is repaying debts ahead of schedule, which is more, much more than one can say about certain other countries.

Secondly, 67 per cent of the country's population would reject EU membership. Can't imagine why.

A long article on conservatism in the Anglosphere

This is well worth reading though it is long. John O'Sullivan who has made his appearance on this blog before here, here and here, has written a sort of end of term analysis of conservatism in the Anglosphere on NRO. Looking at the situation in the US, Australia, Canada and Britain (though not New Zealand, which would have been interesting) he comes to the unsurprising conclusion that conservatism is in worst shape of all in this country.

Friday, March 16, 2012

On the whole this is good news

The Archbishop of Canterbury, His Bloviation, Dr Rowan Williams is departing for greener pastures, to wit, Magdalene College, Cambridge. On the whole, this is good news. I don't care all that much about his travails with homosexuality in the Church apart from being puzzled why it had not been foreseen as a problem.

I do, however, care about his moral relativism, which is not what the Archbishop of Canterbury ought to be preaching, his trendy politicking and his refusal to stand up for Christians under attack, especially in certain Third World countries. Some previous postings on the ArchDruid are here, here, here, here, here and here. Nobody can accuse me of being silent on the subject.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Monday, March 12, 2012

Eurasia Daily Monitor on what next in Russia

Like everyone else, Pavel Baev is speculating. Russia is an odd country (yes, thank you, you can pipe down at the back): the only one in which we always know the election results well ahead but can never predict what will happen afterwards.

His final paragraph is of interest:
The explosion of street protests in Moscow was a real scare for Putin. While now he enjoys his victory, granting concessions to those responsible for the weeks of panic would have been very much against his unforgiving nature. He believes that the weak always are – and should be – beaten, and fancies that he has proven himself to be strong. The fight on the last stretch of elections was, in his imagination, not against the cheerful crowds on the Bolotnaya square but against the dark forces that sought to dismember Russia in collusion with the eternal Western enemies. Those in the opposition who expect dialogue and liberal reforms are going to be disappointed – and will discover the depth of Putin’s vindictiveness. Paradoxical as it may seem, this revenge of Putinism could be the answer to the opposition’s search for a new energy and unity.
Actually, the whole piece is worth reading. As it happens, I do not think President-Re-elect Putin has shown himself to be strong and what is more worrying for him, it has become more and more obvious. Screaming abuse of one's enemies is not the same as strength of character or position. But he is, most certainly, unforgiving and a bully.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Some thoughts on Russia and its not so new President

[Warning: this is quite a long piece of general musing. Maybe too long for this blog. It was intended for another outlet but that did not work out. So I am putting it up here in the hopes that some people might read it.]

The dust has more or less settled in the matter of the Russian presidential election and we are between two protests – one last Monday at the end of which the police finally turned relatively violent for the first time since December 5 and a forthcoming one on Saturday, March 10. The time has probably come to discuss, as a number of people have been doing, as to what might come next for Russia, her new (or should that be renewed) President and the ruling elite who has a symbiotic relationship with him.

The immediate reaction divided into two: there was the “Putin is virtually finished despite the victory after that fraudulent campaign and election” camp and the “Putin will now live up to the threatening rhetoric of the election campaign and turn very nasty” camp. Both opinions are about the future as Putin will not be officially inaugurated for another three months. One good thing: there will be no need for any kind of a hand-over.

Many of those who have proclaimed Putin’s soon-to-come political end are now saying sorrowfully that the opposition seems to be running out of steam; the turn-out on Monday was not as large as that of previous demonstrations and the mood was rather despondent. It is not clear what the demonstrators were really expecting but short of a miracle Putin was going to win that election and modern Russian history has been short of miracles. It is true that nearly 40 per cent did not bother to vote and of those who did turn out nearly 40 per cent voted against him. It is also true that the only candidate who can be called at all oppositionist, the vaguely liberally minded billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who is, nevertheless, supposed to have good links with the Kremlin, came third with 20 per cent of the vote.

Undoubtedly the electoral fraud reported across the country was real and the whole electoral campaign had been fixed in the usual way with no registration of real candidates, suppression of meetings, no access to the media and in those circumstances it is hard to assess whether Putin would have won in a free and fair election or not. Probably yes but he clearly did not think so. That is obvious not just from the extended fraud, which might be put down to the usual Russian fear of democracy, but from the ridiculous and hysterical speeches he made on the “campaign trail”. The suddenly discovered terrorist plot that was supposed to target the newly elected President was laughed out of court in Russia as well as in the West. One wonders what happened the badly damaged alleged terrorist who gave the information on TV and whether he will be dragged out again at a later date if Putin does decide to turn on his enemies.

Then there was the strange comment that an opposition leader might be murdered in order to blame the regime, which would, presumably, necessitate the regime to hunt down the supposed murderers and anyone else who might be in the conspiracy. That must have reminded a few people of the events of December 1, 1934 when the First Secretary of the Leningrad Party, Sergey Kirov, who had quite a following in the whole party and was supposed to have clashed with Stalin, was assassinated in very mysterious circumstances. Stalin became Chief Mourner and used Kirov’s death to launch the great purge. While Putin is no Stalin, his vocabulary, his threats, his ready and hysterical identification of opposition to him with enemies of Russia bring back uneasy memories. The fact that he used similar vocabulary for his victory speech, which he made long before he ought to have done when only a small minority of the results had been declared, was what made people think that in his third term Vladimir Putin will turn on his opponents with an even greater ferocity than before. He and his various colleagues and minions have done so before but for the first time in his career, the man is facing an opposition that seems to have some popular roots and he appears to be afraid of it, despite its limited size. But then, he seems to be afraid of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former CEO of Yukos, destroyed by Putin with, sad to say, the help of Western firms and politicians though the man is in a prison camp near the Finnish border, serving his second sentence on trumped up charges. For all of that, he also seems to be producing some interesting ideas and strategic instructions to the opposition, so, maybe, President-Elect Putin is right to be frightened of him.

The fact is that the situation has changed because of those large spontaneous demonstrations even if the movement may peter out now. After all, it is a little depressing to keep going to rallies and demonstrations that get you nowhere. The anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny is apparently working on ways of continuing the pressure and building it up slowly and peacefully. One has to admit that the first attempt to do so, a proposed erection of tents on the Western “occupy” model failed. The police moved in and dispersed the remaining demonstrators, arresting around 250. (Another 50 were arrested in St Petersburg.) They were all released within a few hours and have had to appear in civil courts. Other demonstrations have been cancelled; we shall have to see what happens on Saturday. But the rallies and demonstrations did happen and may revive if things do not improve as they are unlikely to do. Putin’s image has been tarnished: he is no longer the all-conquering hero, supported by the Russian population.

The economic situation is against him. On the one hand, the stability and high oil and gas prices meant a better living standard for most Russians than anything they can remember. But this merely encourages the growing middle class to look for political rights as well. Many of them travel to the West and they know that those living standards are still not quite good enough, given all the facts. They are becoming aware of the backwardness of the country, the low standards of the infrastructure (you don’t have to travel to the West to know that but if you do you are less likely to accept it as unavoidable). So the higher living standards are no longer Putin’s friends.

Then again, those standards are falling and are likely to fall even more. Economic growth that Russian officials boast of so proudly is likely to fall to 3.5 per cent, which is higher than that of the West but the starting point is much lower. There are reports of high unemployment in some parts, of demonstrations and riots for economic rather than political reasons and of hasty attempts to pacify the population.

Corruption is unlikely to go away. Mr Putin has said that fighting corruption and raising living standards will be the primary aim of his coming term. What, many people will ask, has he been doing all these years of being in power either openly or covertly.

Assuming that Mr Putin will not be able to solve the economic problems (he has not produced any ideas as to how he might do that) and will not touch the closely related problem of corruption, what will he do if the opposition, which he considers to be enemies of Russia, rears its head again? He can start negotiating, which he has refused to do so far but may not be able to avoid much longer. Most likely he will use the present President and Prime Minister to come Medvedev to make pacific gestures and promises such as the latest one to review 32 dubious cases, including that of Khodorkovsky and his second in command, Platon Lebedev.

He can decide to resign at some point or do what Yeltsin did and promote a useful tool to the position on condition that he and his family are left in peace to enjoy whatever loot they possess. Such deals seem to be the norm in modern Russia but it might provoke a truly violent reaction.

He can live up to his rhetoric and within months of re-inauguration start cracking down on the opposition perhaps reviving the concept of show trials and other suchlike instruments of government. At the same time he might decide to purge some of the siloviki, who are his supporters as they, too, might be eyeing him and his position with speculation. 

Or he can wait and see, the most attractive and see - the most dangerous option as it leaves the initiative to the people or disgruntled supporters.

Friday, March 9, 2012

These are NOT voluntary organizations

I spent part of yesterday in journeying to and from Oxford and reading an elegantly short book edited by the highly distinguished Tom G. Palmer (full disclosure: he is a friend of long standing and we both love cats), entitled The Morality of Capitalism.

The essays are uneven but I do recommend the book to all either because they might find pithy arguments to back their own opinions or because they might find it interesting to read arguments that oppose their opinions and undermine their emotions. As John Milton, one of this blog's patron saints, explained some centuries ago, one reason why speech must not be controlled is because even people who are in the right (and he thought there were people in the right) need to be able to test their opinions against opposing ones.

I shall try to do several postings about the book and the various essays, some more critical than others and some that will use the essays as a starting point, a little like sermon texts. (Yes, you can stop reading now, if you wish to.)

Today's "text" comes from David Boaz's excellent piece Competition and Cooperation (on page 31), which argues the to me irrefutable point that a free economy (not the crony capitalism and regulatory statism we have) relies on competition but cannot exist without co-operation that involves our free participation.

In particular, the author differentiates between all organizations that are "voluntary", whether they are businesses that need to make profits or charities that do not, and those created by the states, who, obviously enough, enforces our participation in them.
Some analysts distinguish between commercial and nonprofit organizations, arguing that businesses are part of the market, not of civil society; but I follow the tradition that the real distinction is between associations that are coercive — the state — and those that are natural or voluntary—everything else. Whether a particular association is established to make a profit or to achieve some other purpose, the key characteristic is that our participation in it is voluntarily chosen.
This clarity of division has been muddied, probably deliberately, by the change in terminology. The trouble, particularly in Britain, lies with the expression "voluntary organizations". In many cases this term has replaced the old word "charity" as the bodies in question are not precisely charities: they do not raise money from private donors, either individual or corporate, for specific and clearly understood aims. Instead they receive money from the state. They are not, therefore, accountable to the donors in the way they spend that money, pursuing a particular charitable purpose.

In fact, they are, despite their preferred description, not voluntary organizations. As they are funded by local or central government with, in the case of the larger ones, the occasional grant from some transnational body, they are actually part of the state machinery and rely on hand-outs that are taken from that patient milch-cow, the taxpayer, whose participation in the funding is far from voluntary. They are also, controlled in their aims and activity by the state, its minions and its political ideas.

The subject has been much in evidence in the fairly vehement discussions in my borough, where the Council has managed to reduce local tax for the third year running without, they say, reducing essential services. So far as I can make it out, they are not wrong though there is some debate going on about Meals-on-Wheels. As I don't know the rights and wrongs of it, I cannot comment.

I can, however, comment about another and far more vociferous complaint. It seems that the Council has saved money by cutting back on its grants to "voluntary organizations", who appear unable to function without hand-outs from taxes, and by selling a rather fine but somewhat dilapidated building where a number of these organizations had offices for which they, presumably, paid no rent. The building is going to become a free school, which is yet another good idea.

Over twenty "voluntary organizations", we are told in tones of horror, will have to close. What will happen to their clients? Well, what indeed.

My immediate question was about the number. Why on earth do we need that many "voluntary organizations"? After all, if twenty-plus will close, many more will remain open and functioning at the Council's that is our expense. Do we really have that many different vulnerable groups who need all this help? Is there not, perhaps, some overlap between the various groups and their activity, with money going out more than once for the same purpose? Could they not, perhaps, be inventing problems and vulnerabilities in order to survive and keep claiming money?

Neither I nor anyone else knows the answer to those questions but I strongly suspect that if these organizations were really voluntary (and there is nothing to stop them from becoming that now); if they had to present proper plans and well defined aims to potential donors and be evaluated by the people who might voluntarily give them money rather rather than tick boxes on forms created by local councils and civil servants on the basis of their own priorities, we would find out those answers. We would probably find out exactly how useful these "voluntary organizations" are to anyone except the people who work in them either for money or for free.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

You mean we are not

Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked a very reasonable question:
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in the light of the numbers of British troops fighting in Afghanistan, they are directly involved in peace talks between the Taliban, the United States and the Government of Afghanistan; and, if not, why not.
Lord Howell's minions in the FCO replied on behalf of HMG:
The UK has always supported an Afghan-led political process to help bring peace and stability to Afghanistan. At the start of the year, the Taliban issued a statement expressing a willingness to participate in a political office in Qatar. President Karzai recently publicly endorsed the idea of an office in Qatar. We are supporting the Government of Afghanistan in its efforts to take this process forward.
I take it the answer is no, we are not and have no real way of making sure that we have any say in the matter. Why not, exactly?

Creepy state

This is about the United States but we can all recognize what Zenpundit is talking about in this posting. Do read it as it is short and very punchy. And no, I still do not think either country is as bad as Russia but that is not necessarily a consolation.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

That elephant is being ignored again

Damian Green has decided to wade into the immigration pillow fight. British business, he says, is "addicted to foreign labour" and should be hiring British, even if it means training those British. This is putting the cart before the horse, needless to say, as business owners will point out to him unless they prefer to ignore him completely.

Perhaps, he and his colleagues should try to find out why it is that British business is "addicted to foreign labour" and then discuss solutions to the problem, if it is, indeed, a problem.

However, I note with some interest that certain words are missing from that diatribe. I expect readers of this blog have guessed what they are: European and Union. I wonder how it is that Mr Green failed not notice the elephant yet again.

The least surprising electoral result

We all know what it is: former President and former Prime Minister of Russia, Vladimir Putin has been re-elected. He is once again the President. Can't say he is once again the Boss as he always was despite the misplaced hopes for Medvedev asserting himself expressed by the odd Western analyst. Putin's teddy bear had no power base - how could he have possibly asserted himself.

The result, given that no genuine oppositionist was allowed to register as a candidate and the two leading opponents were the perennial leaders of the Communist and the nationalist Liberal-Democrat parties were not what one might call overwhelming. On a turn-out of around 63 per cent Putin is supposed to have secured 64 per cent of the vote on official figures, which are being disputed with a good deal of filmed and otherwise described evidence of blatant vote rigging.

Tens of thousands of people have been demonstrating in Moscow under the very watchful eyes of the security services. Several hundred were arrested including the leaders Alexei Navalny and Sergei Udaltsov. Another fifty or so were arrested in St Petersburg. All seem to have been released and the cases will be handed over to civilian courts.

Further developments will be watched with interest but it seems that what annoys people more than anything is the shamelessness of the fraud and of the shenanigans, the contemptuous rejection of all criticism and complaints. It seems that President Putin does not care whether his support is on the wane or not. That is not a very sensible way to behave as the slightest knowledge of Russian history would tell him.

Monday, March 5, 2012

UKIP is in the media

UKIP's latest MEP, Roger Helmer, is debating robustly (on both sides) whether he has done the right or the honourable thing with his local Conservative Party and erstwhile supporters, like Rupert Matthews and Emma McClarkin, while dropping hints that he may well stand again in the next European election, which, as I have suggested before, will cause problems.

In the meantime, UKIP's Spring Conference has produced some media attention, which is never a bad thing. No less a person than Michael White of the Guardian has written an article about the party and its conference, in particular about its new members, many of whom are young and glamorous and who, thus, change the old image the party has presented. To be absolutely honest, Michael White is a little behind the times. That old image is very out of date. Any UKIP conference of the last few years would have shown a fair proportion of young faces among the older ones.

For a long time now UKIP has attracted young supporters, many of whom find the other parties somewhat pointless and disillusioning. Whether they stay long enough or make a difference to UKIP's outlook is another matter but they are certainly there.

Star of the show seems to have been the delightful Alexandra Swan (well, she sounds delightful) whom Mr White describes:
No, the new Tory defector whose scornful tone might have rattled Cameron was Alexandra Swann.
Smartly dressed and well-spoken, sporting long blonde hair and 3in heels, she does not fit the Ukip stereotype. No blazer and regimental tie, no beard or beer gut, Swann is researching a PhD on 19th century social Darwinism and the small state. She is also 23, a political anorak since 16, former deputy chairman of the Tory youth wing and a visible blogosphere presence.
Ms Swan made her appearance in the Irish Times as well, where she was photographed with the Leader. (I must admit they both looked like escapees from any Conservative Party Conference but, one cannot deny the fact, that they were smart.)

Of course, as Stewart Wheeler reminded the conference remains in the mid-sixties but that just shows that UKIP is no different from other political parties except when it comes to winning elections. Then again, we have a government made up of two parties, neither of whom managed to win the last General Election and one of whom did considerably worse than expected or predicted.)

Nor is the libertarian message, occasionally promoted by the Leader, which attracts people like Ms Swan (and others I have spoken to on various occasions) is always prominent. A good many of UKIPers at the Conference and off it prefer a message of protectionism and anti-immigrants of all kinds, whether they work or claim benefits. Libertarians, of course, Libertarians like Ms Swan (I assume from her self-description) believe in free trade and think people should be able to get jobs wherever those exist but nobody should claim benefits. That is not necessarily a winning formula but neither has the traditional UKIP message been so far except in the European elections.

At the risk of attracting yet more ridiculous personal attacks I have to repeat: UKIP has the potential to change the face of British politics; it has had that potential for years but nothing much has happened. Should they not stop simply shouting "huzza, huzza" whenever the Leader appears, pat each other on the back, assure each other that next time they will definitely win but, instead, sit down and work out what has gone wrong so far and what needs to be changed. Strategy should not be a dirty word.

Just for fun

A former colleague at the Countryside Alliance has reminded me that we have officially started British Pie Week. Yippee! I am planning what sort of pies to make and, of course, eat. Furthermore, making your own pastry is very easy.

Worth following

The Campaign for Independent Britain (CIB), a cross-party campaign with an uncompromising withdrawalist position vis-a-vis the European Union (and its predecessors) has a useful website, which I can recommend people who are interested in some aspects of the problem. Information ought to be our strength and any website that spreads it needs to be supported and read widely.

I do note, in parenthesis, that all the campaign's officers are now male. Some developments have passed them by but one can't expect everything. (Once upon a time I was their Press Officer, as so often, the token female.)

A day to celebrate

Today is the anniversary of Joseph Stalin's death on March 5, 1953. Well, OK, it is the anniversary of the day on which his death was announced since there are a few murky details around his death as there were around almost every part of his life. His funeral on March 8 was another bloody occasion as hundreds of people were crushed in a stampede caused, most likely by inefficiency and paranoid security.

One wonders whether the renewed President Putin remembers the date.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Better late than never

I did see this news item earlier or, to be absolutely accurate, early yesterday evening but decided to have dinner at the best Polish restaurant in London (well, one of the two best but this one is a good deal cheaper than the other one).

We have another and quite an important defection from the Conservatives. No, not Douglas Carswell or Daniel Hannan. Heaven forfend. But Roger Helmer, who has had a good deal of trouble with the party and has been semi-detached in the European Parliament for some time, has finally taken the plunge.

I first saw the news on Autonomous Mind (the Boss's great buddy) who linked both ConHome, where Tim Montgomerie does a fair job of explaining Helmer's decision and where the comments are surprisingly well balanced  and the BBC news item.

It took him a long time and a good many problems not least the most recent one over who should move up to take his place at the head of the Conservative list when he retires. As readers might recall, Mr Helmer decided to stay on when he realized that CCHQ was going to mess around with the list to prevent Rupert Matthews from becoming an MEP. Now CCHQ can rejoice at having lost an MEP as Mr Helmer will not resign but then nobody ever does when they cross from one party to another. With the party list system that is undoubtedly a problem but so far nobody has managed to solve it. Then again, individual MPs who cross the floor in the Commons refuse to resign and have a by-election so all arguments for Mr Helmer to resign will be ignored.

At the moment UKIP is whooping with joy. But problems will arise. What will happen at the next European elections? Will Mr Helmer stand? If he does he will expect to be top of the list in East Midlands. That might cause some frictions. Even more importantly, just how does the Great Leader, Nigel Farage feel about this? He is, naturally enough, grinning happily as he stands next to the new UKIP MEP. But let us not forget that the question, which is raised every time UKIP does badly in elections about the leader, "if not Nigel Farage then who" will now have a very different answer. It is no longer nobody but "what about Roger Helmer". Interesting times ahead in UKIP.

Well, that was worth it

A friend sent me these links as it is hard to find the story in the British media. From LiveLeak: a delightful little snippet of Libyan NTC Islamists destroying British and Commonwealth war graves in Benghazi. The lads seem to think this is quite a good way of passing their time. And just in case you are about to tell me that the story is dubious here is the statement by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission:
It's now reported from Benghazi that two Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries have been damaged in attacks over the weekend - both the Benghazi War Cemetery and now the Benghazi British Military Cemetery. We are awaiting a detailed report but in both cemeteries, headstones were broken and disfigured. Both cemeteries will be restored to a standard befitting the sacrifice of those commemorated at Benghazi, but this could take some time because we will need to source replacement stones.
Mr Cameron, why exactly did we intervene in Libya? What are we getting out of the whole adventure? An ally?

Friday, March 2, 2012

How long do we go on wasting money

A new charity has been set up to deal with the lack of numeracy among the British population, especially its children.
Poor numeracy is blighting Britain's economic performance and ruining lives, says a new charity launched to champion better maths skills. The group, National Numeracy, says millions of people struggle to understand a payslip or a train timetable, or pay a household bill. Government figures show almost half the working population of England have only primary school maths skills.

A government spokeswoman said poor numeracy was a national scandal.

The new organisation quotes from research suggesting weak maths skills are linked with an array of poor life outcomes such as prison, unemployment, exclusion from school, poverty and long-term illness.
Poor numeracy is, indeed, a problem at that very basic and other levels. Our engineering firms are struggling to find a sufficient number of British employees not because every foreign worker will take lower wages or work 20 hours a day but because our schools do not teach basic numeric skills without which it is impossible to study engineering.

Poor numeracy means that basic economic factors remain a closed book to most people.

Poor numeracy means that any old rubbish produced by the Warmists, the Europhiliacs or the plain old statist banker-bashers is accepted without the slightest question by a hefty proportion of the population with politicians and the media cheerfully playing to the gallery.

In fact, this blog has already noted that City AM was starting a campaign to improve teaching of basic economics and suggested that Mr Gove's call at the time for maths teaching up to the age of 18 was misguided until the standards of teaching are improved.

I have also written about the campaign started by the Evening Standard to "get London reading", which called for volunteers to go into schools to teach children, for most of whom English is the first language, to read. Similar campaigns are being waged in other cities.

So there we are: in a country where many billions of pounds are spent on a national education system, where children start attending school earlier than in any other country and stay in compulsory, free at the point of delivery education for longer than in any other country, we are desperate for volunteers to teach basic literacy and numeracy because teachers apparently cannot be expected to do so. Is it not time we drew the obvious conclusion about our education system and about a large number of teachers who work in it?

While we are on the subject of London's schools I need to appeal to any reader who lives in London. Do NOT vote for Siobhan Benita, the former civil servant who happens to be female and rather photogenic, thus getting a good deal of media time and who has, therefore, been described as a radical. Actually, she is an old-fashioned left-wing statist who cannot envisage any system in which individuals or orgganizations of any kind are allowed to take any decisions for themselves. She is also remarkably ignorant about the role of the Mayor, preferring to run on the well-used ticket of "being against the white, male, middle class establishment". (I wonder how Ken Livingstone and Jenny Jones, the Green candidate, feel about that.) Oh yes, let me not forget that she is also a mother and used to work for Sir Gus O'Donnell.

If all the above had not disqualified her from being allowed anywhere near even a whelk stall, never mind a fishmonger, here is the clincher:

She is at her most passionate on education, and even if it is technically beyond the remit of Mayor of London, she says she is committed to reform in London. She is no fan of academies and "unfair" choices.

She says that grammar schools do not lift up the less well-off: "At the moment we have a system where if you can pay to tutor your kids - which is what most people do - and move into an area where the schools are good, then you're fine.

And if not, you're left behind. I say choice doesn't work. I don't think you should stop as Mayor until you're saying that every school in London needs to be excellent."
It strikes me from those and some other paragraphs that even the Evening Standard is beginning to tire of her performance. Let us hope she is soundly trounced.

On the New Culture Forum

Andrew Breibart - my short obituary.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Here are the figures

As readers of this blog know I have very little time for Open Europe's endless call for that elusive reform of the EU. However, when they deal with facts, they are worth listening to as they have the resources and they use them to produce good research of primary material.

Here is their analysis of the second Greek bail-out. The figures are not good. Well, you would not have expected them to be so. Reading the key points will take a couple of minutes. Then go and have a stiff drink.

A moderately happy birthday to the BBC World Service

The BBC World Service (formerly, when I was working there full time, the World and External Services) was celebrating its 80th birthday yesterday. The video shows some of the amazing features of Bush House, its home since 1940, which they will be leaving this summer, to relocate in Broadcasting House, whence they had been driven by a German bomb.

The move from Bush House has been discussed for years, if not decades. It makes a great deal of sense both from financial and technical point of view. Still, it is a sad thought when one thinks of the historic events that took place in that building and the many broadcasts that went out from there at so many historic moments. I have many personal memories of the place but am looking forward to seeing the new equipment in the new Broadcasting House that is never going to be as attractive but may be more useful.

Needless to say, it being the BBC, there was a row about the birthday celebrations with the highly regarded former managing director John Tusa protesting at what he saw as the ridiculously wrong decisions taken about the invitation list.

This is sad news

There is, I know, a good deal of sad news around but this has affected me more than others

Andrew Breitbart, one of the most influential conservative bloggers in the US, the founder of Big Hollywood and Big Journalism, among others, the scourge of the left-wing media (not many others) has died of a heart attack at the age of 43. I am told, that, as ever, there is a great deal of rejoicing in what in America is called liberal circles. Well, they are right from their point of view if more than a little tacky: he was an enemy they feared.

Here is Ed Morrissey's obituary on Hot Air. More on Gateway Pundit and Michelle Malkin. There will be many stories in the hours and days to come so I apologize ahead for not posting any more links.