Wednesday, May 30, 2012

They are still at it

Mona Charen has an article on National Review Online about her 16 year old son's AP World History textbook, which she has finally looked at in some detail. I feel her pain.
In the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union — with all of the copious records that have been exhumed from the Soviet archives and other sources — one might have thought that the sheer human catastrophe caused by Communism ought no longer to be in question among serious people, far less eminent historians. (Actually, there has been no doubt since the 1930s, but the evidence has become even more voluminous since 1989.) Yet throughout this 900-plus-page tome, the brutal body count of Communism’s victims is given only glancing notice. Like Soviet apologists during the Cold War era, the authors provide generous interpretations of Communist dictators’ motives, along with dry, forgettable descriptions of their atrocities.
World Civilizations tells some of our most advanced tenth-graders that Josef Stalin’s collectivization of agriculture “had serious flaws.” That’s one way of describing a deliberate policy of starving the peasantry into submission. In Harvest of Sorrow, Robert Conquest estimated that the “terror famine” of 1932–33 caused the deaths of at least 5 million Ukrainians, and that Stalin’s agriculture collectivization, which included the war on “kulaks” (slightly more prosperous peasants), took the lives of 14.5 million people in all.
You won’t find those deaths mentioned in World Civilizations. No, the text instructs students that “after the messy transition period” had ended, “the collective farms did . . . allow normally adequate if minimal food supplies . . . and they did free excess workers to be channeled into the ranks of urban labor.”
Later, World Civilizations mentions that Stalin’s totalitarian regime resulted in one of the “great bloodbaths of the 20th century.” But the very next sentence misleads the reader completely. “During the great purge of party leaders that culminated in 1937–38, hundreds of people were intimidated into confessing imaginary crimes against the state and most of them were put to death. Many thousands more were sent to Siberian labor camps.”
They are STILL doing it: brainwashing children by lying about the full horror of Communism. She has other examples. It is not a pretty story.

Hmmm, don't know about that

Der Spiegel is a little worried about the Irish referendum on the fiscal pact tomorrow (for the benefit of those who have not been paying attention, let me point out that this is the treaty that does not exist because the Boy-King has vetoed it and on which we cannot vote in any shape or form because it does not exist).
All of Europe is looking to Ireland as the country prepares to vote on Thursday in a referendum on the unpopular fiscal compact for greater budgetary discipline. If the Irish reject the new treaty, it won't just be a major blow to its main advocate Angela Merkel. It could also spark panic on the financial markets.
Really? I should have thought if the Irish reject the new treaty then they will just have to have another referendum.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Happy Tax Freedom Day

Two days later than last year, as the Adam Smith Institute points out, but we have reached it: Happy Tax Freedom Day in the UK (it came around on the other side of the Pond a little while ago).
Tax Freedom Day falls later this year down to a number of factors. The double-dip recession, the VAT increase from last year, our high personal taxes, as well as fuel duty and stealth taxes, all mean that the government is taking a larger share of our hard-earned income. Britain’s tax burden is still too high and tax cuts are desperately needed to boost economic growth.
This year’s corporation tax receipts are a good example of how tax cuts can pay for themselves. There were large increases in tax revenue from onshore corporation tax, coinciding with the government’s cuts to the headline rate of corporation tax. Reductions in the corporation tax rate have brought the government higher revenues as more companies choose to invest in the UK. By stimulating growth and investment, tax cuts really can pay for themselves.
However, our Tax Freedom Day still falls long after the USA’s, on April 17th and Australia’s, on April 4th. Our only comfort is that our tax burden isn’t quite as high as France’s, which will have to wait until July to celebrate its own Tax Freedom Day. With Hollande now in power, that day could get even later in years to come.
There is always someone worse off than you are, as the old saying goes.

What motivates these people?

Let us try to work out what motivates people who protest against orchestras that perform in the Proms or theatre companies that take part in artistic festivals; let us, further, try to work out what motivates brain-dead luvvies when they write letters to the Grauniad (it is usually the Grauniad whose readers seem unable to understand the principle of free speech) demanding that orchestras or theatre companies should be banned from performing in this country.

To be absolutely accurate the protests are against the orchestras and theatre companies of only one country; luvvies who get worked up about that particular country seem to be strangely indifferent to the fate of, say, an Iranian singer who has had to go into hiding because he dared to make fun of some mullahs.

Last summer there were disgraceful scenes when the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra performed a politically innocuous programme at the Proms. This year, it is the turn of the Habima National Theatre that performed yesterday and will perform today at the Globe Theatre. They are part of the Globe's fascinating programme of the 37 plays as well as Venus and Adonis in different languages.

In case anybody is wondering, there were two plays in Arabic, Cymbeline in Juba, performed by a company from the newest Africa state, South Sudan and Richard II in Palestinian Arabic, performed by the Ashtar Theatre. Needless to say, there were no protests about the treatment of women, Christians or gays in Palestine. Nor were there any protests against the National Theatre of China, which performed Richard III in Mandarin, though being the national theatre of a highly oppressive state, it could conceivably be linked to that state's behaviour.

Unfortunately, I missed the Chinese performance. Richard III is one of my least favourite Shakespeare plays for a number of reasons but it is always interesting to find out what actors in a totalitarian state make of it. The plays I did go to see were the three Henry VIs in three different Balkan languages. It was an exhausting and absolutely fascinating day. The Macedonian idea of making Warwick the Kingmaker a woman was inspirational.

I am sure, by now readers would have worked out which is the only company that did elicit protests as well as stupid letters from half-witted luvvies. Yes, it was the Israeli Habima company, which performed The Merchant of Venice yesterday and will do so today. Again, I shall have to miss it though I was more than intrigued by the choice. It's not that The Merchant of Venice is an anti-Semitic play - it describes an anti-Semitic society, which is a very different concept - but I would like to have seen what the Habima made of Shylock and of the other, considerably less likeable characters.

Not so our rent-a-mob and our half-witted luvvies. They invaded the performance (easy enough and cheap enough) and had to be led out with one person arrested. It was known that there would be a demonstration and a counter-demonstration had been organized by groups who are pro-Israeli but whose main aim was to make it clear that the suppression of artistic performances is a bad thing in itself. Contrary to occasionally voiced opinions one cannot separate culture and politics. Anyone who believes that has not really looked at Shakespeare's plays.

Well, what does motivate these people? A large proportion of the protesters are not Palestinians so they clearly think that the cause of those settlements is of supreme importance to outsiders. It is not the cause of Palestinian freedom that they espouse as there are no protests against the bloodthirsty oppression carried out at various times by Hamas and Fatah or against the routine denial of rights to women and to minorities in Gaza or the West Bank.

It is not the cause of freedom in general since there are no protests against the theatre companies, orchestras or dance troupes that come from other, far more oppressive states where no artistic performance can be said to be independent.

No, the only cause that excites these people, whether protesters or half-witted luvvies, to the point of demanding a complete suppression of artistic endeavour is one they understand poorly but feel about very strongly: the Israeli settlements. Or is there something else behind it all?

ADDENDUM: An article in The Commentator answers that question in an unequivocal fashion.

YET MORE ADDENDUM: It was pointed out to me, rightly, that I did not mention that the half-witted luvvies did not have it all their way but were challenged by other thespians and one playwright, Sir Arnold Wesker, who used remarkably sane arguments.

One learns something new every day ...

... and it is rarely pleasant. For instance, I did not know that there was a UN agency devoted to world tourism. I suppose I ought to have thought of it but I try not to pollute my mind with rubbish like that (try and fail, I may add).

According to The Foundry
The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), created in 1970 and based in Madrid, identifies itself as the “United Nations agency responsible for the promotion of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism.”
Well, that's quite bad enough but worse is yet to come.
It announced last year that Zambia and Zimbabwe jointly “won the bid” to host the 20th session of the UNWTO General Assembly in 2013. Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, has been appointed a “United Nations international tourism ambassador” in recognition of the promotion and development of tourism.
Robert Mugabe? The President of a country he and his friends and relations manage to impoverish? Just how much tourism is there in Zimbabwe now despite its astonishing natural attractions? Michael Ross writes in the National Post:
For cognitive dissonance, see under: The United Nations. It’s no longer just a platform for countries with less-than-negligible human rights records to bash Israel and other democratic nations, or the dispatcher of envoys like Kofi Annan to Syria (under whose watch some 800,000 Rwandans were slaughtered) or the patronizing professional busy-body Olivier De Schutter, a Belgian “UN special rapporteur on the right to food,” to lecture Canada. The UN is now an expert on tourism to Africa and deciding who is best suited to promote it.
The UN just announced that its favourite African megalomaniac, Robert Mugabe, and his Zambian sidekick, Michael Sata, have been appointed United Nations international tourism ambassadors in recognition of the promotion and development of tourism. The UN through the United Nations World Tourism Organisation will officially confer the status to the two presidents at a function to be held in Victoria Falls this week and officiated by the UNWTO secretary general Mr Talib Rifai. The honour comes even though the European Union and U.S. have imposed travel bans on Mugabe and many of his senior government officials due to widespread human rights abuses.
In one way, we should be cheering decisions like this. After all, the more appalling, disgraceful decisions the UN makes, the more corruption and kow-towing to bloodthirsty kleptocrats there is, the more likely people are to perceive that the UN is long, long past its sell-by date. Nothing apart from total destruction will do. That is how it ought to work, but such is the mindlessness of our opinion makers and the general refusal to face up to facts with perfectly sane people bleating about the good ideas behind the UN that I do not think anything will make us wise up.

And proof that this is not a hoax.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Brian Hindley 1935 - 2012

Last Monday I went to the funeral of a very good friend who also happened to be one of the leading intellectual lights of the eurosceptic movement, Brian Hindley, who died a month short of his 77th birthday. Brian's achievement as an economist, particularly in the field of international trade, his extensive knowledge in his field coupled with an ability to write spare and very accessible prose is described well by Martin Wolf in the obituary published last Friday by the Financial Times.
The salient characteristic of his scholarly writing was an ability to bring economics to bear on the institutional details of policy. Hindley applied the forensic style he had learned at the University of Chicago from Milton Friedman, whose monetarism he embraced, and George Stigler, supervisor of his thesis on the separation of corporate ownership and control.
Although he took no intellectual prisoners, he was unfailingly courteous. Such was his integrity that many of those with whom he disagreed respected him personally. Those who knew him as a friend delighted in his tough-mindedness, decency and robust sense of humour.
How very true. Brian was capable of having an argument about practically anything but whatever the subject was, the debate was always conducted with good humour and usually ended with a big grin and, if appropriate, the offer of another glass of wine.

My own friendship with Brian was born and grew through our involvement with the Bruges Group. His was much longer. In fact, he was one of the founding members and this is what Mr Wolf has to say on that subject:
Hindley was also a founder member of the Bruges Group, created in response to Margaret Thatcher’s speech in the Flemish city in 1988 in which she declared that “we have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them reimposed at a European level”. He became involved out of concern at the encroachment of the EU on the UK’s economic liberties, rather than on its sovereignty. He wanted the group to provide a civilised forum in which those concerned about the consequences of Britain’s EU membership could engage, irrespective of party allegiance.
He authored pamphlets on the topic, including “Europe, Fortress or Freedom?” in 1989. Becoming co-chairman along with Barry Legg, a campaigner on tax and former Conservative MP, he viewed his task as one of maintaining high intellectual and editorial standards. But a clash between the two prompted Hindley to quit.
In 1996, he co-wrote (with Martin Howe QC) “Better Off Out: The benefits or costs of EU membership”, for the Institute of Economic Affairs.
The pamphlet was updated and reprinted several times and was probably responsible for that political formula, now used by various people, including the odd Conservative or so.

Brian was first co-chairman with Martin Holmes and the two of them managed to revive the Bruges Group after a period of doldrums and make it into a dynamic intellectual forum. Martin sent this appreciation:
It was my privilege to work with Brian for almost nine years as Co-Chairman, 1993 - 2001. During that time we never had a single disagreement or cross word worthy of the name and I came to respect and admire Brian as a man of academic integrity and personal probity who was deeply troubled by the EU’s extending tentacles.
Brian was a first rate economist who resolutely opposed the CAP and European Monetary Union but he was no dry-as-dust economist. At one annual conference at King’s College I asked Brian what aspect of economic integration he would be speaking about that day. He replied that he intended to speak about the growing threat of political integration as that was even more significant.
Brian was a true servant of the cause of economic and political freedom and he and the Bruges Group were made for each other. He will be greatly missed.
It was not just on economics that Brian contributed expertise to the Bruges Group, as Martin Holmes points out, but on such matters as the growth of the ECJ's power and the threat imposed by the Constitution (now Lisbon Treaty) on freedom in general.

It is very unfortunate, that Brian's involvement with the Bruges Group ended on a slightly sour note when he, characteristically, objected to a particular publication because of its intellectual standard.

My memories of Brian revolve round exuberant lunches or the odd glass of wine after a meeting in his house when we would discuss and often argue about many things though not about free trade (I am basically a supporter but my knowledge could not come anywhere near Brian's) or about Britain's membership of the EU. Interestingly, Brian did not think that the UK needs to look to an alternative grouping outside the EU and was not a great supporter of EFTA or the EEA or, for that matter, of NAFTA. Why not go it alone, he would say, and create free-trade agreements.

We disagreed on some political matters: Brian was a staunch republican while I am an equally staunch monarchist; he tended to lean more left-wards in American politics than I do and one of our strongest arguments was about Sarah Palin, whom he judged entirely on the basis of what the New York Times said about her. I may add that another cause of disagreement was our respective views on the MSM and the blogosphere. Brian was cautious about the blogosphere while I tended to be all too dismissive of the MSM. As far as the British blogosphere is concerned, he was probably right - it does not seem to be going anywhere far.

What else did we talk about? Our families and our travels, literary explorations and our shared love of detective stories and thrillers though, once again, our opinions varied with me liking the more traditional detective story more and Brian preferring thrillers. However, these divergence did not result in arguments. After all, there is plenty of room in the world for both genres.

Brian's death is a personal loss to me and to his many friends (all of whom have happy memories of jolly and noisy arguments) though more so to his family who were, separately and collectively, the lynchpin of his existence. Beyond that, the economic and the eurosceptic community will miss a strong-minded, enormously talented and intellectually courageous member.

Friday, May 25, 2012

This is what happens ....

... when I stay away from blogging for a few days: UKIP or, at least, its leader decides to do something stupid.

The Boss on EURef has already written about the story in his inimitable fashion and, as it happens, I have heard that tale of the unreliable Hannan from other sources as well.

Last time there was talk of an electoral pact, Farage offered one to the Tories if they promised to have an IN/OUT referendum. The offer was greeted with loud guffaws and was as stupid an idea as anyone had ever heard.

Now the offer is somewhat different. Fresh from the doubtful achievement of around 8 per cent of the vote (13.8 per cent outside London) on a 32 per cent turn-out and touting the odd opinion poll that puts UKIP ahead of the Lib-Dims together with those endless never-coming-to-anything rumours about Tories who might want to commit electoral suicide by joining UKIP, Nigel Farage has apparently offered to throw away the party's strongest weapon, the ability to take votes away and to run joint candidates.
But with Ukip regularly polling around 10% - sometimes beating the Liberal Democrats into fourth place - and with more than a quarter of Tory supporters in a recent survey saying they would consider voting for the eurosceptic party, Mr Farage believes that some Conservatives are attracted by the idea of co-operation.
Asked about the possibility of joint Tory/Ukip candidates, Mr Farage told The Spectator magazine: "What I do know is there are Conservative associations up and down the country who think this could be a way forward.
"All I would say to you is that in terms of co-operation or deals or anything in the future, firstly it's some way off. But secondly, I can see that there are associations thinking along these lines. If they approach us, would I entertain and contemplate such ideas? Of course I would."
Mr Farage said he hoped Ukip could be the "catalyst" for a "reconfiguration of British politics", that would see a more libertarian party of the right emerge, committed not only to withdrawal from the EU but also a smaller state.
As I have said before, if UKIP were going to provide that catalyst it ought to be a good deal nearer to having an MP or two or, perhaps, a dozen. After twenty years of existence, nudging the Lib-Dims is just not sufficient achievement. The truth is that nothing will come of this idea of co-operation any more than of any previous one: if nothing else most UKIP members will object to being swallowed up by the Tories whom they rightly do not trust. Would it not be better if Mr Farage and his flunkeys finally started thinking about strengthening the party and working out some better strategies?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Is it worth the trouble?

People I know and like have told me that I was wasting my time on the 1922 Committee. Who really cares, said they, on the shenanigans within the party formerly known as Conservative? Nobody, of course, except the ever decreasing number of members. However, the structure of British politics, hollowed out by various agents, including the EU, is of importance. One day we shall want to use it again. Building from scratch is never easy as a number of post-Communist states have demonstrated.

On a far more important level, I have been following, together with his many supporters, Cranmer's battle with the ASA. Any reader who is unaware of the ASA's outrageous and dishonest behaviour and of His Grace's capable fight with them, ought to spend a little time catching up.

In his most recent posting Cranmer wrote:
It is a question of impartiality, which matters profoundly in political processes where force and influence compete with manipulation and facts: if an organisation with quasi-judicial authority professes to be objective in its investigations, then its senior staff and officers must not only be impartial, they must also be seen to be impartial. There cannot be even the merest hint of a political agenda subverting that professed neutrality or corrupting the overriding commitment to fairness and justice.
He then goes on to detail why the Chairman of the ASA, Lord Smith of Finsbury, formerly known as Chris Smith MP and Culture Minister, cannot be said to be impartial or objective.

Cranmer is absolutely right. These things are of importance. Some of the discussion on the blog is interesting though, I note the presence, comme d'habitude, of a ninny who advises the blog author to get over it and start writing about something else. He gets short shrift from the others, I am glad to say.

So, for the last time I hope, here is a little more about the 1922 Committee. The "modernisers" by which one means the people who ensured that the Conservatives did not manage to win against the least popular government in living memory, are rejoicing. Graham Brady, the Chairman, is calling on everyone to unite and stop the infighting, which would indicate that things are truly bad and the Committee's meetings may well start resembling those of Tower Hamlets Council.
Modernisers hope the group, which has traditionally acted as a “safety valve” for the party, will now form greater links with Tory HQ and its volunteers around the country.
They also hope meetings can be moved from Wednesday to Monday so MPs can unite around key events in the Parliamentary week, and want the 1922 to become an “umbrella” for other policy groups right across the party.
New executive member George Hollingbery said the election had shown an “appetite for change” but stressed the new MPs wanted to work with colleagues on the changes.
“This stuff will all take time, none of this will happen overnight,” he told the Standard. “The ’22 has been here a lot longer than I have and will be here for a long time after I’ve gone.”
So the plan is to use the Committee, which is supposed to be the voice of the backbenchers separate and, sometimes, against the leadership, to establish complete control of the Parliamentary party and local associations by the leadership. Time for a 2012 Committee, perhaps? After all, the 1922 was created at a time of a creaking coalition.

Not all is smooth sailing, though. It seems that the Treasurer of the "influential 1922 backbench committee" has criticized William Hague for "criticizing British firms", which is hardly the Foreign Secretary's job and neither is addressing the CBI Conference. Instead, Mr Binley thinks, Mr Hague should be doing more to free British business from EU red tape, though he does not actually explain how that can be done. Clearly, the intelligence level of the new Executive Committee is not spectacularly high.

A thought comes to one: does this mean that Conservative MPs will be allowed to attack Mr Hague to show their supposed independence of the leadership?

Do we really want "politicians of conviction"?

It is almost a given in certain political circles, especially but not exclusively, eurosceptic ones that the problem with the political system of this country is the lack of conviction politicians. It was all so different in the good old days, many of them wail, without bothering to find out much about those days.

Setting aside the historical inaccuracy of a narrative that presupposes politicians were different at any time in the past en masse, let us ask ourselves whether we really want politicians of convictions.

I was mulling over the subject because of a discussion on another thread with a friend, whose only fault is that he is a member of the Conservative Party and rather approves of the Boy-King, on another thread. We ranged over a number of subjects and eventually arrived at Edward Heath on whom we largely agreed. Except that the word traitor cropped up.

Heath, I said reasonably as always, was not a traitor but a man of his time. The belief in the efficacy of larger units and uselessness of small ones was in the air for decades after the Second World War: larger counties, larger boroughs, larger police forces, larger schools and, of course, larger political states. I wrote about it all in my obituary on EURef, my erstwhile blogging home, and have only one thing to add: Edward Heath was most definitely a politician of conviction. His conviction, particularly as regards of Britain's need to enter the Common Market was so strong that he was prepared to do anything and tell any lie to achieve it. To be fair, politicians rarely consider telling lies a problem (and the electorate would be horrified if they did not) but in Heath's case it was done in order to achieve something he fervently believed in.

The much derided Ken Clarke, incidentally, has some convictions but as they consist of supporting the EU and the idea of Britain one day entering the eurozone (though even he must realize that it is a remote possibility) these are dismissed as being political buffonery. Sadly no: they are the expression of political conviction.

The wishful thinking that makes people sigh for politician of conviction without considering that those convictions might not be ones we want is akin to the one that assumes that the solution to our problems is "asking the people", possibly in a referendum, because the people are bound to give the answer we want. Well, no, the people might not give the answer we want and politicians of conviction might not have the convictions we approve of. Might it not be time to rethink that particular mantra?

Such a good thing we no longer have a socialist government

After all, only socialists would think of spending millions of pounds of taxpayers' money to advise parents how to change nappies and make funny noises to their babies. Am I not right?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

How fares the 1922 Committee?

Two weeks ago this blog mentioned that David Cameron and the Whips were once again trying to undermine the 1922 Committee, this time by putting up a slate of candidates for the Executive Committee from the 301 group, all people who can be relied upon not to rock the boat too much (and that goes for the much-lauded but ever so cautious Ms Pritti Patel).

Since then I have been told by a veteran Tory MP that while this was undoubtedly a plot by the Whips it was not going to go anywhere as long as the Cameroonie loyalists did not get any of the important positions. To be fair, Graham Brady remains Chairman and John Whittingdale, one of the Vice-Chairmen.

Well, we have had the election. Who won, who lost and what will it mean for the parliamentary party, formerly known as Conservative? Reports are somewhat mixed. The Guardian, who, as readers will recall, broke the story of the slate, thus managing to annoy a lot of Tory MPs, says that it was win some, lose some for Cameron.
Supporters and opponents of David Cameron achieved a score draw in elections to the executive of the 1922 committee on Wednesday, which were seen as a test of Tory backbench mood amid fears that Downing Street is losing its touch.
A bold move by loyalists to achieve "seismic change" in the elections, by removing "bloody rude" members of the old guard, achieved partial success when some critics of the prime minister were unseated. But the modernisers on the 301 Group, who had published a slate of candidates that was handed out to MPs as they voted on Wednesday afternoon, also suffered some setbacks.
The main battle for the two coveted secretary posts on the executive of the 1922 executive resulted in a draw. Karen Bradley, who was on the 301 Group slate, won a post. But Charlie Elphicke, a Cameron loyalist, failed in his bid to take the other.
That post went to Nick de Bois, a popular figure with all wings of the party who was not on the 301 Group slate. But the Thatcherite Chris Chope, who had been strongly supported by the traditional right, was unseated.
And so it goes: Bernard Jenkin survived, Peter Bone did not; some MPs got in with the support of the 301, some like Robert Halfon, part-time rebel, without it and Ms Patel managing to get the support both of the Cameroonie loyalists and of his opponents.

James Forsyth in the Spectator thinks that 301 Group have managed to purge the 1922 Committee, though he acknowledges that Bernard Jenkin and Nick de Bois (the non-slate candidate who got one of the secretarial positions) managed to win because of personal popularity and despite not being part of the slate. There is no mention of Robert Halfon.

Curiously enough, Mr Forsyth thinks this makes the 1922 Committee more powerful because it now definitely represents the parliamentary party as a whole. The fact that the Executive is now full of Cameron loyalists who stood specifically to ensure that the Committee, from now on, toed the line, seems to him unimportant.

Paul Goodman on ConHome is clear: it is a victory for the 301 Committee. He sees it as a change of generations, though he does mention that undoubtedly glasses are being raised in Downing Street and the Treasury. Their boys and girls have won and will ensure that there will be no undue opposition to the leadership that the backbenchers will not have an organization through which they can express their discontents.

Incidentally, it is interesting to note that the definition of a rebel is now someone who voted for that benighted and pointless EU referendum. As this blog and EURef noted at the time, the referendum is a means of fudging the issue. Vote for it and you are a "rebel" though it is meaningless. The fact that most of those MPs, including the fragrant Ms Patel have never put their heads over the parapet on any issue that matters, becomes irrelevant.

The commenters on ConHome who ask whether there really is nothing more important going on in Britain fail to see the point. As far as the Boy-King and his camarilla are concerned the most important matter is controlling everything they can: party, Commons, backbench committees and, soon, the Lords. Nothing else matters to them.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Banning political parties is a very stupid idea

Somebody should tell the German authorities that. They are preparing, once again, to ban the NPD, a seriously nasty neo-Nazi organization that seems to have been behind a series of murders of mainly Turkish immigrants. It is unlikely to get past the German Constitutional Court and, in any case, the NPD is already preparing to go to the European Court of Human Rights. Above all, it is a very stupid idea.

"Greece's best hopes now lie in a return to the drachma"

So says Der Spiegel. Man the barricades - those evil Germans are on the move again, talking sense at last.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Baroness Cox's Bill

Baroness Cox has once again introduced her Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill, whose aim is "to make further provision about arbitration and mediation services and the application of equality legislation to such services; to make provision about the protection of victims of domestic abuse; and for connected purposes". First Reading was on May 10 and the hope is that there will be a Second Reading before the summer recess.

Geert Wilders again

Geert Wilders, the highly memorable Dutch politician whom neither the Islamists nor the political establishment can silence, has written a book, entitled Marked for Death: Islam's War Against the West and Me. FrontPage Magazine has an article on him and his long fight against the Western political classes and media as much as anything else.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Queen's Speech

The long parliamentary session came to an end finally last week with very few achievements to its name and today the new one opens with the Queen's Speech, which will be analyzed later on. In the meantime, the blog's readers can watch it for themselves.

Reading the alternative Speech from the Adam Smith Institute makes one sigh for lost opportunities as do they.

Kipling said it in Danegeld

IT IS always a temptation to an armed and agile nation,
 To call upon a neighbour and to say:
 "We invaded you last night - we are quite prepared to fight,
 Unless you pay us cash to go away."

 And that is called asking for Dane-geld,
 And the people who ask it explain
 That you’ve only to pay ’em the Dane-geld
 And then you’ll get rid of the Dane!

It is always a temptation to a rich and lazy nation,
 To puff and look important and to say:
 "Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you.
 We will therefore pay you cash to go away."

And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
 But we’ve proved it again and again, T
hat if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
 You never get rid of the Dane.

 It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation,
 For fear they should succumb and go astray,
 So when you are requested to pay up or be molested,
 You will find it better policy to say:

 "We never pay any one Dane-geld,
 No matter how trifling the cost,
 For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
 And the nation that plays it is lost!"

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A little item we all missed

My attention has been called to this little item that seems to have passed us by.

It seems that the staff of UNWRA, an organization that breaks UN rules as being existing entirely for the supposed benefit of just one small community, the Palestinian refugees (though whether keeping them in refugee camps for generations is a benefit remains questionable), have gone on strike in Jordan.
The management of UNRWA, which provides basic services to more than 5 million Palestinian refugees in five areas of operations-- Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza Strip-- had offered a 5 percent salary hike, but the workers' committees had turned it down and insisted on action.
Could be worse. At least it is not the Jordanian army that is taking action against the Palestinians.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Meanwhile, the rest of the world carries on

Hiding from all the election news (good for London, neutral for the rest of the country, expectedly bad in France and confusing in Greece) I came across this article by Hillel Neuer of UN Watch in the Canadian National Post.

It would be hard to deny that there are serious problems with food shortages and, indeed, famine in many parts of the world, though, as ever this is caused by political decisions. When one bears that in mind it will not be so surprising that one of the places with growing difficulties is Syria, a highly productive country.
According to the World Food Program, half a million people don’t have enough to eat in Syria. Fears are growing that the regime is using hunger as a weapon.
Quite so. Shouldn't the UN Human Rights Council' so-called hunger monitor be interested and perturbed?

Apparently not.
This is the kind of emergency which should attract the attention of the UN Human Rights Council’s hunger monitor, who has the ability to spotlight situations and place them on the world agenda. Yet Olivier de Schutter of Belgium, the “Special Rapporteur on the right to food,” is not going to Syria.
Instead, the UN’s food monitor is coming to investigate Canada.
That’s right. Despite dire food emergencies around the globe, De Schutter will be devoting the scarce time and resources of the international community on an 11-day tour of Canada—a country that ranks at the bottom of global hunger concerns.
A key co-ordinator and promoter of De Schutter’s mission is Food Secure Canada, a lobby group whose website accuses the Harper government of “failing Canadians…and [failing to] fulfill the right to food for all.” The group calls instead for a “People’s Food Policy.”
I asked De Schutter if his time wouldn’t better be spent on calling attention to countries that actually have starving people.
“Globally, 1.3 billion people are overweight or obese,” he responded via his spokesperson, “and this causes a range of diseases such as certain types of cancers, cardio-vascular diseases or (especially) type-2 diabetes that are a huge burden.”
Does this mean the Special Rapporteur on the right to food is actually more interested in people having too much food than with them having too little or not at all?

Possibly this curious anomaly has something to do with the history of the specific mandate.
First, consider the origins of the UN’s “right to food” mandate. In voluminous background information provided by De Schutter and his local promoters, there’s no mention that their sponsor was Cuba, a country where some women resort to prostitution for food. De Schutter does not want you to know that Havana’s Communist government created his post, nor that the co-sponsors included China, North Korea, Iran and Zimbabwe.
These and other repressive regimes are seeking a political weapon to attack the West. That is why the first person they chose to fill the post, when it started in 2000, was Jean Ziegler. The former Swiss Socialist politician was a man they could trust: In 1989, he announced to the world the creation of the Muammar Gaddafi Human Rights Prize.
The award spread propaganda for its namesake, and elevated his ideological allies. Recipients include Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. In 2002, the prize went to convicted French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy — and to Jean Ziegler himself.
From 2000 to 2008, Ziegler’s UN reports and probes turned a blind eye to the world’s hungry. Instead he attacked America, the West, capitalism and Israel. The human rights council applauded him, and repeatedly renewed his mandate. Only because of term limits did they replace him in 2008 with De Schutter, who praises and emulates his predecessor.
Normal behaviour on the part of UN organizations and, in particular, on the part of the UN Human Rights Council.

Friday, May 4, 2012

At noon today

I finally switched on my computer (largely because I had an e-mail from a French friend that asked why there were no results) and found the HuffPo summary immediately. No surprises. Labour making gains at the government's expense - it was expected and is not unusual for local elections around half-way through a government's life. Under the Thatcher government this used to happen quite often yet the lady went on to lead her party to victory several times.

Low turn-out? Expected and predicted even by this blog. Labour wins Liverpool's first Mayoral election? well, who thought it would turn out otherwise?
Elsewhere Nottingham, Manchester and Coventry all voted No to the PM's plan to have elected Mayors. A referendum on in Birmingham is likely to produce the same result.
That, I must admit, is excellent news. We do not need any more layers of politicians directly elected by a small proportion of the population who have no real power but lots of money for waste and corruption.

Later on, I shall look up UKIP results so far.

UPDATE: It seems that the turn-out across the country was 32 per cent, a little low even for local elections, which proves my tentative prediction. Most people are disenchanted with the main parties and see no point in voting for a sham local government. However, that disenchantment, for the most part is not turning to votes for smaller parties or independents, which is a pity.

Another unexciting predictions looks likely to come true: UKIP is doing well enough for them to be pleased. Seats taken and in Tunbridge Wells the leader of the council has been defeated by UKIP. Other candidates came second and third. A good enough result but not startling; there will be celebrations in UKIP and no thought to the morrow as usual. It also looks like across the country they will still be behind the Lib-Dims.

ADDENDUM: The Guardian's live blog seems pretty good. Among other things we are told that Doncaster has voted to keep a directly elected Mayor and Peter Davies of the English Democrats remains it. Also, there is speculation that Boris Johnson might actually increase his majority. For 3.05 the blog says:
Ken Livingstone's team are privately conceding defeat in the London mayoral contest. My colleague Hélène Mulholland has been talking to them, and she says they are resigned to Boris Johnson winning. They even think that Johnson will increase his majority. In 2008 Johnson had 53% of the vote when second preferences were included, and Livingstone was on 47%.
I shall refrain from rejoicing until I know for sure but, as I said before, in 2008 LIvingstone's team knew well ahead of the official announcements. As did the bookies who started paying out in the afternoon.

Those elections

For readers who wish to keep up with the news as they come in I recommend PoliticsHome News Liveblog. It seems to be keeping on top of the results as they come in or even as they are rumoured. I might have a look at it from time to time.

It would appear that the predictions about the Lib-Dim vote disappearing were accurate across the country. Conservatives will not do well though it is not clear just how badly. In fact, this live blog on Sky shows that Conservatives are holding on to seats. These are, of course, early results. The idea that you can extrapolate from local elections in 2012 about possible general election results in 2015 can exist only in the overheated imagination of the average hack.

Pretty pictures in the Daily Mail of leaders and spouses.

Some unpleasantness in Bradford towards the end of campaigning. I am sure the Boss will write more about it. The trouble seems to have stemmed from Galloway's thugs. No surprises there. They say they are the victims. No surprises there, either.

There are rumours that Birmingham has voted against a directly elected mayor. Liverpool and Salford are voting for the first time for a Mayor but, according to the Guardian, the voters do not seem to be terribly excited by it all. Can't imagine why not.

And that's enough elections. Ed.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Any predictions?

Predicting local election results is very difficult for obvious reasons: they are local and are affected by local considerations and individuals. Also, the turn-out tends to be quite low, which is unhelpful for those who like to see patterns.

The assumption is that there is a general and widespread dissatisfaction with the main parties, which these days means the Lib-Dims as well, and this will show itself in the vote. But how, is what few people know. Will there be a stronger vote for the small parties, for independent candidates or will more people simply stay at home, recognizing that local government in this country is a bit of a farce?

Then there is the problem of several cities having a referendum on whether they want a directly elected Mayor. One hopes that they will take one look at London and, especially, Tower Hamlets and vote against such a terrible notion in droves. But it is possible that they like the idea of having someone like Lutfur Rahman at the helm of an expensive but powerless body. If the turn-out remains as low as ever in those cities, then the chances are the proposal will go through and Leeds, Bradford, Birmingham will face London's problems: there will be another expensive layer of government that will not actually be in control of anything much but will be able to spend a lot of money irresponsibly and interfere with people's lives from time to time. A jolly prospect.

The Boss of EURef tells me that the suddenly revived Respect Party is likely to play havoc with the Labour-controlled Bradford council. I would be in favour of the big parties getting their noses bloodied if it were no Respect that profited from it.

Talking of which, what of UKIP? Hard to tell. For various reasons I have, as ever, been subjected to a barrage of over-optimistic predictions about that party's probable performance but that happens before every election and by-election and the necessary results have nor been forthcoming. Mind you, over-optimistic in this case means "we shall beat the Lib-Dims and come third". Even if that happens across the country it is hardly the most spectacular achievement after 20 years of existence, a goodish amount of publicity, a situation in which the Lib-Dim vote is, apparently, in free-fall with the electorate heartily sick of all major parties and the EU front-page news of the negative variety every day.

Almost twenty years ago at the Newbury by-election Alan Sked stood for the Anti-Federalist League, UKIP's predecessor and came fourth, something he pointed out forcefully when he made his speech. One would like to think there has been progress since then but, apparently, next to none.

I would prefer to see one of two results for UKIP: either a spectacularly good achievement, with lots of seats on councils and a number of votes across the country that would put them, if not first then close second or a result so poor that they would be forced to reconsider their policies, strategy and tactics (though it has been pointed out to me that nothing short of complete annihilation would make them do that). The chances are it will be neither but a kind of OK outcome with a few places gained and a few close misses with many more that can be called progression. There will then be much rejoicing and calls to "bring on the GE" as if they were on track to forming the next government.

There is talk that UKIP might win one or two places in the London Assembly but predictions for that highly expensive and completely powerless and purposeless body are hard to make for two reasons: most people have a very slender notion of its existence, let alone its activity and for good reasons as I know, having worked in the Great Glass Egg for nearly four years; and the voting is barely comprehensible with a Continental-style system of candidates from various rather large "constituencies" plus a top-up vote from lists.

The BNP will most probably lose its seat but what will happen to it and to other seats is hard to predict. I seem to recall that in 2008 most of the predictions for the Assembly turned out to be wrong.

Another complicating factor for UKIP is that somewhere along the line somebody made a terrible mess of filling in the required forms so UKIP candidates have been listed as "Fresh Choice for London". The ballot paper for the Mayor appears to have both names on it but I am not sure about the two for the Assembly. This may actually be something in their favour in that people who would not vote UKIP might put a cross against that fresh choice. Or it might confuse everyone even more.

One thing I can predict with a fair amount of certainty: if one or more UKIP (Fresh Choice for London) candidates do get into the Assembly, there will be an almighty row in the party within a couple of months and a split between those inside the Great Glass Egg and those outside.

Of course, what matters in London is the Mayoral election and that, practically speaking, boils down to a choice of Boris Johnson or Ken Livingstone. According to the Evening Standard it is too close to call but their polls are not clear in their indication, again for two reasons. One is that, as Damian Hockney, erstwhile Leader of the One London group in the Great Glass Egg, pointed out in a letter some weeks ago, the assumption seems to be that the turn-out will be over 50 per cent. This has never happened before and is unlikely to happen now. The other problem is that second transferable vote. All predictions are based on first vote only and while Boris is leading the gap is not enormous. What will happen with the second vote?

There again, the predictions were misleading last time. On the basis of the first vote it seemed too close to call for a long time but the second vote gave Boris a decisive victory. However, that was not declared till Friday evening yet by then Ken's minions had cleared their offices and packed their belongings, having summoned the removal firms, presumably, on Friday morning. So they knew more than the exit polls had told the rest of us.

The next time I write about these elections I may well be in the position of having to acknowledge that I was wrong or nearly wrong. We shall see.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A requiem for the victims

May Day is an odd sort of holiday (where it is treated as such). The day after Walpurgis Night, when the witches fly in many countries, it had many pagan connotations and continued to be a feast in Christian Europe well into the sixteenth and seventeenth century, later in some places.

More recently, however, it had been taken over by the rather notional international workers' movement. Actually, rather a lot of events seems to have taken place on this day including the birth of the great Duke of Wellington in 1769 and the issuance of the first penny black stamp in 1840. Nevertheless, since the 1890s the association between May Day and the international workers' movement has become ever firmer, especially promoted in the various Communist countries and by trade unions in the non-Communist ones.

It seems to me that this is a goo day to recall the many victims of Communism and to remind people of what that international workers' movement really led to.

So, I have been re-reading Anna Akhmatova's Requiem, the great sequence of poems about the years of Yezhovschina, that is the Great Terror, dedicated to its many victims. It seems to me that it is a long time since I translated any Russian poetry and the time has come for a return to that occupation. What better way to start than Akhmatova's wonderful cycle. Completed sections will be posted on the blog but in the meantime, here is the easy bit, the quatrain and the prose introduction, both of which I have posted before in a long blog on EUReferendum2 on the subject of an exhibition of art from Russia in the Royal Academy and the disgracefully mealy-mouthed curating.

No, I did not live under an alien sky 
And was not protected by alien wings - 
I was then among my own people, 
Where my unhappy people were. 


In the terrible years of yezhovschina I spent seventeen months in Leningrad’s prison queues. One day somebody recognized me. The woman immediately behind me, whose lips were blue with cold, and who, presumably, had never heard of me, seemed to shake off the numbness that had overtaken us all. Leaning close to my ear she whispered (we all spoke in whispers): 

- And this. Can you write about this? 

 I said: 

- Yes I can. 

Then something resembling a smile glided across what had once been her face.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Going after the 1922 Committee again

Readers of this blog will recall that very soon after the General Election of May 2010, the Boy-King who did eventually become the Prime Minister, leading a Coalition government nobody had voted for, showed that one of the most important things on his agenda was an attempt to exert control over the backbenchers' organization, the 1922 Committee. (Here, here and here.)

He lost that battle so now he and his minions have decided to undermine it, using other methods. Claiming that it is nothing but a grumbling post and a completely ineffective one at that, the "modernising 301 Group will be running a slate in an attempt to oust the Tory old guard". The Cameroonie hacks have been primed.

Among them is a youthful hackette, hitherto unknown to me, called Donata Huggins who "writes about politics and life in the Westminster village" in the Daily Torygraph and does so very badly.

In her article on the subject of the 1922 Committee and the attempt to subvert it, she commits the cardinal sin of telling her readers that this is a story because the Guardian is reporting it. Does she not know the scuttlebutt herself?

She then adds in her easily imitable way:
The Committee is currently run by a group of mostly cantankerous old farts who do little to further Right-wing ideas in Britain. Just last week they stirred up a fight with the Government on Lords reform. Just imagine if that brought down the Coalition? Not unemployment or economic growth: the things that matter to their constituents, but reform of a place many see as a retirement home for politicians. The Conservatives shouldn't allow Ed Miliband's repetition of "out of touch Tories" to ring true.
And ends the article with the words that fall somewhat short of Wildean with or Bagehot-like profundity:
Put simply, Right-wingers need to chill out and realise that they'll be more effective if they act like they're all in it together.
This, gentle readers, is the standard of the modern Daily Torygraph.

Other media outlets also reported the proposed coup. The Spectator, another Cameroonie rag thought that it was a fuss about not much at all. According to James Forsyth, who is also anxious to show that this is all about modernisation,
Also included on the list are two Cornish MPs, George Eustice and Sheryll Murray, who tried to block the so-called pasty tax. The intention is to show that while the slate is broadly supportive of the leadership and wants a Tory majority at the next election it is made up of people who will tell the Prime Minister when they think he is wrong.
If this slate succeeds, and I expect it will given both its voting weight in the party and its relatively modest aims, it will remove those who have used their position on the ’22 to campaign against the leadership. But the far harder challenge for it will be, as Tim Montgomerie says, to give the ’22 more of a campaigning focus.
One other thing worth noting is that these elections will vastly increase the standing of the ’22. The fact that the new intake are competing so vigorously for posts on it means that the likes of Louise Mensch can no longer dismiss it as an outdated body that does not speak for them.
Whether a 1922 Committee that is entirely in the pocket of the leadership and whose members will be allowed to show phony dissidence by opposing some unimportant measure while certain subjects like the European Union will be off the agenda, will really increase its standing is very doubtful.

Tim Montgomerie is cautiously in favour and thinks this is an attempt to rebalance the Committee in favour of the 2010 intake, which would, in his opinion, push aside a great deal of parliamentary experience. That may well be the aim of the exercise. Get the younger and less experienced lot in and it will be easier to control them. They might not stand up against bullying the way the Committee stood up to it in 2010. It is also useful to add that, despite all the predictions, the 2010 intake is extremely loyal to the leadership and will not do much against it.

Craig Woodhouse in the Evening Standard writes in that vein as well:
The new generation of Tory MPs was accused of being “government patsies” today as they launched a bid to revolutionise the party’s key backbench committee.
A group of broadly pro-leadership MPs took the unusual step of announcing a slate of candidates — mainly from the 2010 intake — they want to succeed in next month’s internal elections to the 1922 Committee.
The reason this election is happening, incidentally, is that next week will see the long-delayed opening of the new session of Parliament with the Queen's Speech on Wednesday, May 9. Though what exactly the extra-long session has achieved remains a mystery.