Thursday, February 28, 2013

Some figures about foreign aid

These are not really the figures we want as they give no detail but, I think, we can assume that every penny is either mis-spent, embezzled or has gone towards keeping bloodthirsty kleptocrats in power.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked HMG:
what is their most recent forecast in cash terms of United Kingdom expenditure on foreign aid, including that part of it administered by the European Union, for the period 2010 to 2015.
Baroness Northover (more here) on behalf of HMG replied:
Total UK ODA spend, including the share of the UK's contribution to the European Commission which has been classed as ODA eligible, for 2010 and 2011 is provided below:

2010:£8,677 million (gross)- £8,452 million (net); and 2011: £8,841 million (gross)- £8,629 million (net).

Please note that the net figures represent expenditure net of loan capital (i.e. principal) repayments.
That's a lot of taxpayers' money to be mis-spent, embezzled and generally wasted on those kleptocrats.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Reichstag fire

History Today reminds us that today is the anniversary of the Reichstag fire: February 27, 1933. For some reason the video starts with a note in Hungarian. It says:
The Destruction of the Reichstag
The seat of the German national assembly and one of Berlin's most beautiful Italianate renaissance palaces has become the victim of Communist arson. 
The blog continues:
Coming less than a month after Hitler became Chancellor, the attack was used as evidence of a growing Communist plot against the German government. van der Lubbe was tried, found guilty and executed the next year. Several other Communist leaders were also tried, and acquitted. But the fire was the precursor to a total seizure of power by the Nazis, who began to systematically dismantle Germany's democratic institutions and victimise their political opponents. The real identity of those responsible for the fire remains topic of much discussion amongst historians.
It's an odd way of putting it, the implication being that van der Lubbe was a Communist leader as well, which he most definitely was not. But it definitely was used by Hitler to seize total control and to suppress the Communist party (not that it had put up much of a fight).

It was also used by the Communists to promote their own propaganda, a far more successful enterprise in the end. As I wrote in a long piece a while ago, entitled The big lie or many small lies:
Here is an interesting question for all our readers? Who burnt down the Reichstag in 1933? Can you recall the name of Marinus van der Lubbe, the somewhat crazed Dutchman, who actually set it on fire? And even if you can, do you not think that there was somebody behind it all? After all, it could not be just a lone lunatic?

It would be interesting to know how many of those who read the above paragraph nodded and said: “Of course, Hitler ordered and manipulated van der Lubbe (assuming you can recall the name) and then used the fire to get rid of the opposition and to blame the Communists.”

I am willing to bet that nobody said: “Oh yes, it was the Communists and they managed to get away with it because Dimitrov’s trial (assuming you can recall that name) was unsuccessful. Hitler merely took advantage of the event.”

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the difference between good and bad propaganda.
I am rather proud of that piece and, quite shamelessly, recommend that people read it.

It seems that ...

... Dr Rachel Frosh who dared to re-tweet something that is absolutely true but upset the socialists has been reinstated on the candidates' list. One wonders what she had to promise. Never to say anything nasty about socialists again?

Playing with the big boys

The Eastleigh by-election has proved to be even more boring than the usual run of such events. None of the candidates are of the slightest interest and the rather squalid scandals that surround some of the parties remain of little real interest to anyone except election geeks.

There is a whisper going round that UKIP might do very well, indeed, and a "surge" is being reported on the doorstep. Of course, a surge on the doorstep is not necessarily a surge in the polling booths, which is the only opinion poll that matters in real life. Still, after twenty years in existence, with a great deal of media coverage (of the Dear Leader if not necessarily the party) and a propitious political situation, it would be pleasant to see some kind of an electoral result on UKIP's part.

As I have pointed out before, the Labour Party at this stage of its growth was four years away from its first government (albeit a short-term minority one).

In the meantime, some of the UKIP boys (no girls so far) have decided to play with the big ones and to set up their own site to rival ConHome and Labour List, called The Ukipian. I have a feeling that there have been such blogs in the past but this is the one that is set, according to the two founders, to do well and to grow and grow.

There is an article in The Commentator that introduces the site and explains the need for it:
This Thursday, UKIP looks set to achieve its best ever result in a Westminster election. Yesterday, Channel 4 News’ Michael Crick tweeted that he thought the party could “pull off a surprise victory in Eastleigh”, and with the polls standing as they are, there’s every chance that he could be right.

In the last 12 months, we’ve witnessed the Party rise to the very forefront of the British political scene and in turn UKIP has gained a significant increase in press coverage. This is largely testament to the unwavering dedication of Nigel Farage, Paul Nuttall, and other party officials getting out there and spreading UKIP’s common sense policies on a new and unprecedented scale.

UKIP will celebrate its twentieth birthday this year and naturally suffers the occasional growing pains felt by all that go through the process of developing into maturity. Criticism of UKIP has often been prejudiced and unfair but occasionally right in highlighting some of the challenges that the party has yet to overcome. As UKIP continues to professionalise and develop into a mature political force, it’s crucial that the voices of its members and activists remain heard. Although the party is young, the vast wealth of experience and wisdom found within its ranks is spread generously throughout its membership.

As an unofficial collaborative blog run by UKIP members, The Ukipian aims to provide a platform for those within the party who won’t necessarily ever get the opportunity to appear on Question Time or the Andrew Marr Show, but whose views and ideas are as intriguing, valid and relevant as any other within the party.
Some of that is true and some not so much and a good deal the usual political guff. Naturally, there is praise being heaped on the Dear Leader and his henchmen. On another thread I pointed out that they cannot really be taken seriously as a rival to the other blogs until we see some criticism of the Dear Leader to which one of the founders solemnly replied:
Unlike the Tory Party, UKIP is currently led by a Leader delivering record poll ratings and election results. That's hard to criticise.
My question as to the election results and what they have actually won so far has elicited no reply so far.

Let us have a look at The Ukipian. A suggestion that Lord Ashcroft should drop metro Dave for conservative Farage, an article that promotes grammar schools (a nice idea but probably out of date), Margot Parker (not totally sexist after all) on needing to protect British jobs, several "reports" from Eastleigh that can be disregarded until the results come through tomorrow, Tim Akers banging the anti-Bulgarian and anti-Romanian drum, and so on.

Should they not do as well in Eastleigh as they expect, will there be any criticism of policy, strategy or of the Dear Leader? We shall see.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Comedian does well in Italy

No, not Berlusconi, whose party did not do as well as they had expected, but the real comedian, Beppo Grillo, whose party, " the Five-Star Movement emerged as the largest single party in the lower house, with over 25% of support, and the second-largest party in the Senate, where he won 23.8% of votes". This comes from the analysis by Open Europe, who lament the fact that the results of the election are likely to cause yet more turmoil in the eurozone. They also suggest various scenarios as to where Italian politics and politicians might go next but, I think, we can assume that they will find yet another way forward or sideways.

Most Italians, according to all analysts, remain pro-EU and even those who voted for the Five-Star Movement are unlikely to want to exit even from the euro. At the same time 57 per cent voted against austerity measures, which they perceived as German-inspired and orchestrated. No doubt, there were references to the evil war criminals just as there always are in Greece.

So, an election once there is a new President, whose term is to expire in May and who, therefore, cannot dissolve parliament in the forthcoming months or, perhaps, a coalition between two or more comedians?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Italian election

1.30 am According to the Financial Times, Italy is in for a troubled period and probably a second election very soon.
Italy was on Monday night staring at a period of prolonged political instability following a general election in which voters delivered a resounding rebuff to austerity policies with little hope of any party mustering a governing majority.

The upstart anti-establishment Five Star Movement, founded only three years ago by the comedian-blogger Beppe Grillo, was on course to stage the biggest shock by garnering the largest number of votes of any single party. With all but 2 per cent of polling stations reporting, the grassroots movement was leading on 25.5 per cent, a few thousand votes ahead of the centre-left Democrat party.

But the nation was torn three ways between Mr Grillo and his band of political novices, Pier Luigi Bersani’s centre-left coalition and Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right alliance, raising the prospect of a second election within months.
None of this would matter if whoever gets elected would not be part of our real government as well.

Going on as we speak or as I write this. The Grauniad is updating, should anyone be interested enough to care. Looks like Berlusconi might be back. Personally, I would prefer a real comedian like Grillo.

UPDATE: Der Spiegel thinks that the Centre Left under Pier Luigi Bersani may have won a majority in the Lower House but not in the Senate. A gridlock, in other words, like most streets in Rome.

Let us look back

As we approach March 5, the presumed anniversary of Stalin's death (it was announced on that day but that means little) it may be a good idea to look at an event that took place on this day three years after the old tyrant's demise: Nikita Khrushchev's speech at a secret session of the Twentieth Congress.

I wrote about it on the fiftieth anniversary, referring to the people who still wished it would go away and we would be back to February 24, 1956. No such luck.
Fifty years ago, on February 25, 1956, Nikita Khrushchev, the First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, mounted the podium to give his report on the final, closed session of the party’s Twentieth Congress. It was, to put it mildly, an unusual report.

Instead of the expected boasts and admissions of failure (to be blamed on someone else) Khrushchev delivered a four-hour long speech in which he denounced what he first referred to as the cult of personality that had grown up around Stalin. In effect, he denounced Stalin and some of his crimes.

The speech concentrated on the purge of the party and the destruction of the Communist cadres through “glaring violations of revolutionary legality”. Little was said about the many millions of other victims but there were references to the destruction of the agriculture (and by inference, of the peasantry), to Stalin’s grave mistakes in the Second World War (the full horror of that is still largely unknown in Russia), the deportation of whole nationalities at the end of the war and the paranoia of the doctors’ plot.

Like a good Soviet apparatchik, Khrushchev made no references to the largely anti-Semitic nature of the second purge, which was gathering momentum as Stalin fortuitously (or, perhaps, not) died. But he did quote Stalin’s instructions on how to extract confessions from the various highly placed medical specialists and their assistants, all of whom had been arrested: “Beat, beat, beat and beat again”. Few survived.

It is said that the speech produced an unprecedented effect. People fainted in the hall. Supposedly secret, the speech was passed on to some Soviet and East European organizations. It was also smuggled out by one or two of the foreign Communist leaders who had been present. (One, the leader of the Polish party had a heart attack and died.)

The Poles passed the speech on to the Israelis, who passed it on to other western countries. Very swiftly, the so-called secret speech was known all over the world, though in the Soviet Union its existence was denied till the late eighties when it was finally published.
There is more in that piece about what Nikita Sergeyevich did not say (though he went back to the subject in another speech, this time open and more detailed, at the Twenty-Second Congress in 1961, which really did unleash discussions of the subject. In my very ordinary school in Budapest, the weekly form-teachers' lessons were set aside for the discussion of the speech and what it meant for the concept of Communism. We were in our early teens. It can be imagined how much more was said among our elders if not betters. How different from 1956 when the secret speech had to be smuggled in to meetings of such groups as the Petöfi Circle. 

I wrote about it again when the death of Viktor Grayevsky, the man who passed the speech over to the Israelis who disseminated it in the West, was announced. 

We know how little is said or written about the horrors of Communism, which is seen as being somehow better and nicer in intention than the other monstrous ideology of the twentieth century, Nazism. Just imagine how people felt when the truth began to be spoken in the country where the system was created and first tried out. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Precision in language matters

It is deeply distressing to hear somebody who is highly regarded as a writer in whatever field using language imprecisely. I caught the beginning of Private Passions on Radio 3 today and they were repeating a programme from some years ago in which Andrew Graham-Dixon, the highly regarded art historian and critic (as well as public intellectual) was to choose his favourite pieces of music. (Yes, it probably is a supposedly more intellectual version of Desert Island Disks. I rarely listen to either.)

He started with a Wagner piece and burbled about it (there really is no other way of describing it) saying very brightly though ever so slightly sheepishly that  this is a revolutionary piece of music and, of course, Wagner was a revolutionary, which is important to remember as he is presented as a kind of neo-Nazi, which he was not really.

Wagner was not a Nazi of any kind though some of his ideas were lifted and greatly simplified by the Nazis. Would he  have liked that? Who can tell? The sheer vulgarity of Nazism might have appalled him. Or not. I have no views on that subject. BUT he could not have been a neo-Nazi. That, Mr Graham-Dixon is completely wrong. Neo, as you ought to know, being an art historian of some repute, mean new or young or, perhaps, renewed. At most, Wagner could  have been a proto-Nazi (which  he was not).

Furthermore, the idea that a revolutionary is something wonderfully good and as the Nazis were bad the two are mutually incompatible is tosh. The Nazis were revolutionaries. Their early history is as revolutionary as that of any other socialist, anti-capitalist, anti-liberal, anti-constitutional group. They were great believers in street violence and acquiring power through that, an idea that was taken up by many others in the twentieth century, not least by Mao and the various urban guerrillas.

A highly regarded art historian and critic ought to be aware of all this and not misuse words in this ridiculous fashion.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Mutiny in the ranks?

It seems that some EU members are making their own peacekeeping arrangements though there is no mention on whether our and their masters in Brussels have been consulted.

Kyiv Post reports that Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania are definitely going to create that joint peacekeeping team that they promised to put together last year. That's all very well but are we not all supposed to be working towards the creation of a single (repeat single) EU peacekeeping or whatever keeping force? Do the Lithuanians and the Poles not want to be haring all over Africa making sure that French nuclear companies have enough uranium?

NZWeek adds:
The team will support peacekeeping and humanitarian operations under the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the European Union, or multinational coalitions in accordance with the U.N. Charter and the principles of international law.
In fact, almost anything that might involve them in a scrap.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Something pleasant

A picture I took of a clump of snowdrops in St James's Square on Tuesday before the weather turned cold again.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

No, the Danes did not do it

There was no particular reason to suppose that the Danish High Court would decide that the government had gone against the country's Constitution when it signed the Lisbon Treaty, not after the Ministry of Justice had pronounced that everything was just fine on that front, but hope springs eternal be the shoots ne'er so feeble.

This does not appear to be news on the international circuit but this Swedish blog has reported that the Court has decided in favour of the government. My knowledge of Swedish is non-existent but Mr Google gave me the gist of the piece: Article 20, which requires either a referendum or a five sixths majority in Parliament if powers are passed on to a transnational organization, was not "violated". So that's that.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Max Boot and his book

This lunchtime I attended a meeting organized by the Henry Jackson Society at which the noted American author, consultant, editorialist, lecturer, and military historian, Max Boot, gave a presentation of his latest book, Invisible Armies, a history of guerrilla warfare that includes insurgency and terrorism as well as a discussion of how governments and armies have dealt with it in the past and might want to deal with it in the present and future.

Judging by this, the book has had a tremendous response in the States and it looks absolutely fascinating though long. I suppose it is a long and complicated subject. While I fully intend to read the book at some stage, I have not done so. In fact, I have no idea whether anybody is intending to publish it in Britain though the author is busy promoting it this week and next. Therefore, my comments are predicated on what I heard at the presentation, much of which was absolutely fascinating and I found myself nodding in agreement.

In particular, I agree with Mr Boot's insistence that both the insurrectionists and their opponents need to master the three 'p's: politics, propaganda and public opinion. While the Romans put down any insurrection with exemplary ruthlessness, the British in North America at the end of the eighteenth century, found themselves defeated because public opinion at home had turned against the war. In fact, they had also been defeated militarily but that would not have mattered so much if Lord North's government could muster support for a continuation of the war and greater resources being pushed in.

Interestingly, Mr Boot did not use this argument in a later discussion about Vietnam (raised by someone in the audience) though there the US had actually won militarily but found itself the defeated side as a result of public opinion and proganda back home.

Where I have to disagree with Mr Boot is his assertion, repeated several times, that the new kind of insurgency and terrorism that involved mass propaganda was not possible before the early nineteenth century (apart from the American War of Independence, presumably) because of the technology of communication as well as of irregular warfare. To be fair, he may not say this in the book. What, I thought to myself, of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a time of insurrection and terrorism for ideas that were not rooted in nationalism necessarily and also a time of an intensive propaganda war?

Since 1945, Mr Boot said, about forty per cent of insurgencies have been successful but, of course, that still means that sixty per cent were not. In his opinion, reasonably enough, insurgencies were successful if the government in question was already unpopular and lacked legitimacy in people's eyes. Castro and Guevara were successful against Batista's government but Guevara could not export that to other countries, such as Bolivia, where to government was reasonably popular, reasonably legitimate and reasonably reformist. End of Guevara. Unfortunately, that does not explain while the hardly legitimate and hardly popular Castro government has survived all this time. Possibly because the answer might not fit with Mr Boot's other point and that is the likelihood of a government being successful against insurgencies and terrorists if it takes the trouble to demonstrate its legitimacy and ability to bring the people on side (if only temporarily).

As two case studies, he compared the ferocious behaviour of the French paras in Algiers to the far more nuanced behaviour of the British in Malaya under Sir Harold Briggs and Sir Robert Grainger Ker Thompson. The British did, indeed, develop a very good multi-faceted plan and dealt with the emergency far better than the French did with the Algerian insurgency, which ended with a comprehensive French defeat both militarily and, more importantly, with regards to public opinion. Of course, the British had two advantages: the Communist insurrectionists in Malaya did not have all that much public support and based their strategy on fear and, perhaps more importantly, the country was far away and not much was known at home about what was going on.

Which brings me to another civil war and insurgencythat was fought for about ten years after the ending of the Second World War, in the Baltic States, parts of Western Ukraine and even, for a shorter period, in Poland. Nowhere in that area was the new government seen as legitimate and after the first post-liberation/occupation period made no particular efforts to bring the people on side. Yet every insurgency was put down, often because of theparticipants' mistakes but even more often because of the untramelled brutality of the official forces. What does that tell us and can that be discussed in the same way as the French behaviour in Algiers and British in Malaya when we are looking to the future?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Nothing on the horse meat scandal?

Attentive readers would have noticed that I have not posted anything on the all-engrossing horse-meat scandal. The reason is very clear: the Boss on EU Referendum has been covering the subject in great detail and there is absolutely nothing I can add to it. As a friend who lives and works in America said on another thread: EUReferendum is the go-to site for anyone who wants to understand what is going on.

However, I should like to call attention to one important posting, entitled, slightly misleadingly EU politics: the silence of the media. The media, on the Boss's own showing has not been silent exactly, more completely and utterly wrong.

Astonishingly enough, this posting shows that at least one journalist, Charles Moore, seems to have woken up to the importance of Regulation (EC) No 178/2002, one I recall well from my days of working as the Director of the Honest Food campaign in the Countryside Alliance. (Alas, the campaign no longer exists.)

However, I do want to pick up another point in the posting. The Boss, rightly, considers that all other arguments about the FSA and politicians but, I think, does not pay enough attention to the big issue of a large proportion of the British public's insistence on cheap food.

I am not sure I can understand this obsession entirely, since it does not come from poverty of which there is very little in this country. Rather, there is a widespread feeling, which has existed for a couple of centuries as one realizes reading cookery books of the period, that food should take up a very small proportion of one's income.

Admittedly, a society in which a very large proportion of people's income goes on basic food is a poor society; but many rich societies spend relatively more on food than, by and large, do the British and even so there is a desire for yet cheaper food, presumably because a bigger proportion should be left on drink, holidays and computer games.

This obsession affects eurosceptic attitudes. The Boss fires off a few more rockets towards UKIP whose appearance in the horse meat scandal has been non-existent, despite the obvious EU connection. Instead, they and other eurosceptics concentrate on the one link between food production and the EU they can grasp, the CAP, and the argument (when it does not concentrate on rich farmers, especially the Prince of Wales, getting subsidies) remains monotonously the same: we must get out of the CAP in order to pay less for our food. As a matter of fact, we pay less than most countries, as a proportion of our income. How much less do these people want to pay and what kind of food do they think they will have?

Oh, and should they not have a look at Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 instead of bleating about cheap food?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Is Al-Jazeera going the way of our media?

This is rather bad news. According to Der Spiegel, Al-Jazeera journalists are resigning because they do not think its editorial independence is being honoured any more. Actually, it is an uncharacteristically muddled article but the money quote, if I may put it that way, is:
The network broadcast messages from Osama bin Laden, prompting outraged criticism from the US, where it was referred to as a "terror network." At the same time, it was the only Arab medium that regularly invited Israeli politicians to debates. Its correspondents didn't hesitate to call former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein a "dictator" -- and Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak a "wimp." What's more, the network's journalists reported on dissidents, including members of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, who were forced to rot in prison for years under Mubarak's regime. Such courage and informative journalism earned Al-Jazeera a number of awards.

Since the Arab Spring, though, many former dissidents have risen to power across the region -- and these fledgling leaders often show little respect for democratic principles. Al-Jazeera, however, has shamelessly fawned upon the new rulers.

Today, when Egyptians protest against President Mohammad Morsi and the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Jazeera is often critical of them, in the style of the old pro-government TV station. Conversely, according to ex-correspondent Suliman, Al-Jazeera executives have ordered that Morsi's decrees should be portrayed as pearls of wisdom. "Such a dictatorial approach would have been unthinkable before," he says. "In Egypt we have become the palace broadcaster for Morsi."
So the former dissidents, now in power (well some of them) do not have any time for democratic principles. Well, well. Where have we seen that before?

I have always had a great deal of respect for Al-Jazeera. They may have started from a different point but their reports tended to be informative, scrupulous and as fair as any media reporting can be. Considerably more so than our own BBC for instance. I would hate to see Al-Jazeera becoming just like our own media.

Every time one thinks ....

... the Conservative Party has hit rock bottom a completely new chasm opens before one's feet. To be fair, this story started several days ago and has now been covered by a few people but I think I can add something or other to it all.

About three days ago the Daily Wail published an article in which it told us that
Hertfordshire’s Deputy Police Crime Commissioner Rachel Frosh has resigned today after she retweeted a quote said by Adolf Hitler.

The tweet, which was originally posted by a user under the name Fenrir, said: 'Dear Socialists, embrace your inner Nazism.'

A link took web users to a picture of Adolf Hitler captioned with a quote from him describing the fledgling Nazi party as socialist.

Speaking after the gaffe, she said: 'I recognise that I am not able to fully comment on some political issues whilst remaining as Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner.

'It is therefore with great regret that I have tendered my resignation this morning.'
And that seemed to be that.

On Thursday Rachel Frosh (the Dr is a medical one as she has been that, working in the NHS, for twenty years) wrote a feisty article in The Commentator, in which she explained that although holding those views might hamper in her work as Deputy Police Crime Commissioner, she does not wish to distance herself from the fairly widely held opinion that National Socialism had its origins in socialism. The name is something of a give-away though few people on the left accept that. I recall having the usual sort of argument about Nazism being socialism with somebody solemnly assuring me that it could not be. The word "national" gave the truth away. I replied that I did not see why the word "national" should give anything away while the word "socialist" was ignored.

If one goes through the comments on the article one finds the same arguments rehashed though, I am happy to say, people who appear to know history seem to predominate.

However, I was still ignoring the story, as it seemed such a stupid storm in a teacup. No longer.

Yesterday morning The Commentator informed us all that Dr Frosh has now been suspended
from the Conservative Party's candidates list for the next general election, following hysterical coverage of a retweet of hers which linked Nazism to Socialism.

Party sources are reported to have confirmed the suspension in response to the retweet, which mockingly encouraged socialists to embrace their "inner Nazi".
I checked my calendar. No, it was not a particularly cold April 1 but a mildly warm February 15. What on earth is going on?

According to Guido Fawkes a Tory spokesman has confirmed that they viewed the comments as "completely unacceptable" and that she was, indeed, suspended from the party's candidate list.

Douglas Murray points out, as do many of us, that there is a clue in the name. As it happens, there were clues in the various ideas such as the notion of the individual as a cog in the great structure, shared by Nazis and Communists, both of whom grew from socialism.
It is neither an insult to all of the left, nor an attempt to exonerate all of the right, but rather a statement of historical fact that National Socialism had its origins in socialism. If the Conservative party’s apparatchiks look hard enough they will even find a clue in the name. But evidently they are too busy giving in to left-wing twitter-mobs to have time for such a bland and useless thing as historical truth.
They might also read the excellent Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg that gives a detailed analysis of the historic development.

James Delingpole calls his blog The Conservative Party - where telling the truth is a sackable offence and points out that the obvious connection between fascism, socialism and Nazism has always annoyed the left but it is a little odd, to put it mildly, for the Conservative Party to worry about that. When I think what Conservatives of the past, such as Margaret Thatcher, used to say about socialism I have to admit that not one of them would now be able to get to the candidates' list.

Iain Dale points out that he has made comments along those lines years ago and is, therefore, clearly not candidate material. (Actually, he is a better journalist than politician but let that pass.) And we get the same arguments about whether the fact that something is called socialist makes it socialist with at least one commenter saying that neither Stalin nor Hitler ended up as socialists. Let us forget the ideology: socialism is a lovely cuddly-wuddly set of ideas that wants to make a better world and everybody happy but people who claim to be putting that into practice always end up murdering and torturing millions so they cannot possibly be socialists. Or something like that. At least the Nazis had the sense not to confiscate everybody's property and allowed private business as long as the state remained totally in control; the economy did well unlike in the Soviet Union but that does not alter the basic ideas.

Dr Frosh herself has a website on which she explains that she, of all people, having studied Judaism and converted to it, can speak about the roots of Nazism. The special pleading, in my opinion, is unnecessary. Anyone can speak about the roots of Nazism and anyone can point to their essential socialist qualities; and anyone can disagree.

Setting aside what one thinks about the roots of Nazism, there are two things I find particularly appalling. One is the ignorance that is clearly displayed by the Conservative party hierarchy and the other is the notion that perfectly reasonable political views cannot be expressed by candidates if they upset the left-wing consensus of the twitterati. Here, if anywhere we can see the extent to which the left has captured the commanding heights of our cultural life.

It is as if all political parties (including UKIP) are now competing as to which can show itself in a stupider light and lose more support.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Who will be allowed to take part in the campaigns?

Lord Stoddart of Swindon put down a very pertinent Written Question.
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will ensure that measures are in place to prevent the CIA or any other United States Government organisations, or any other foreign country organisations including the institutions of the European Union, from financing or otherwise assisting organisations or individuals campaigning in the debate on the United Kingdom's position in the European Union prior to any referendum being held on the subject.
Well, I don't know about the CIA or any other US government organization: it is my impression that they have largely lost interest in Europe and its problems and were only interested in the first place because of the looming Soviet menace.

We do, however, have a potential problem with various EU institutions. As we know, they are given to providing propaganda information that, naturally enough, assists those who insist that Britain's place is firmly at the  heart of Europe and if we can't  have the heart then we'll make do with the fingernails.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire on behalf of HMG assured their Lordships that "measures are already in place". We must keep calm and carry on doing whatever it is we are doing.
Section 119 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 regulates donations to permitted participants. A donation is money, goods or services which is given:
towards campaign spending; orwithout charge or on non-commercial terms, andhas a value over £500.

Examples of donations may include a gift of money or other property, sponsorship of an event or publication or free/specially discounted use of an office.
So who are the permitted participants?
[A]n individual registered in a UK electoral register; a UK-registered company which is incorporated within the European Union and carries on business in the UK; a Great Britain-registered political party; a UK-registered trade union; a UK-registered building society; a UK-registered limited liability partnership that carries on business in the UK; a UK-registered friendly society; and a UK-based incorporated association that carries on business or other activities in the UK; a UK-registered friendly society; and a UK-based incorporated association that carries on business or other activities in the UK.
Am I the only person who can see all sorts of possibilities there for the EU to become involved? For example, what happens when one or more of those organizations start inviting Commissioners who just happen to pay their own way out of the taxpayers' money so generously supplied to them?

Yet more show time

I shall do some work soon, I promise. The Bruges Group meeting was as uninspiring as expected but there are other matters that require attention. In the meantime ....

I am delighted that David Duff of Duff and Nonsense responded to my previous posting and gave me a link to this sequence. But, he had forgotten the names. Oh the horror of it! These are the unbelievable and incredible and in every way extraordinary Nicholas Brothers in Stormy Weather.

I have seen parts of it but never the whole and am not sure whether I want to. Cab Calloway, the Nicholas Brothers and many others are worth seeing, not to mention the glorious Lena Horne in one of her first big parts. But Bill "Bojangles" Robinson who is supposed to be a rising star just like Horne was really rather old and only a few years away from his death. From the excerpts I have seen he did not wear his years as well as Fred Astaire did and his performance is a little creaky. So, I am in two minds about it. Not that it is shown all that frequently.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

It's show time

As I head (soon) to another incredibly boring Bruges Group meeting (no fewer than three Conservative MPs) I leave  you with this sequence for which I must thank Duff and Nonsense. It's from Ship Ahoy, made in 1942 with what sounds like a real lulu of a plot but with Eleanor Powell  in the main part as a singer with Tommy Dorsey's orchestra. Other stars are Red Skelton and Bert Lahr  but imagine this: Frank Sinatra and Buddy Rich, who also perform with the orchestra were NOT listed.

Anyway, here are Eleanor Powell and Buddy Rich.


There will be more of this

What with Popes resigning for the first time in nearly 600 years and kings being found after nearly 430 years as well as the horse meat scandal that the Boss is dealing with superlatively well, little attention is being paid to the EU Budget or for the ongoing shenanigans around it. When I say little, I mean less than usual and I do not blame anyone. From my perspective, all the above stories are more interesting.

We all know that the Budget is not really being cut merely the growth is slowing down, that our contribution will probably go up and that the European Parliament has still to vote on it and might actually do so in a secret ballot.

There is another aspect of the whole story and I was reminded of it and I was reminded of it when, the other evening I did not sprint across the kitchen fast enough in order to switch off the radio, thus having to listen to the Prime Minister's dulcet tones telling me that his achievement demonstrated that "with allies we could reform aspects of the EU". Like hell, we can, though I, then recalled that several people who ought to know better and organizations who are supposed to be on our side have been pronouncing in a similar portentous way.

This, they are saying, can be achieved if we threaten to leave the EU (which we have not done); we can deal with the others if we just take the firm line (which is exactly what anybody decides it is).

There will be a great deal more of it: phony victories, faux vetoes, elusive alliances to achieve non-existent reforms. All grist to the mill to persuade the populace to vote for staying in when we get that referendum.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Peter Tatchell confirms it

The Boss has already explained (here and here) some of the background to the legislation on Same Sex Marriage, which is not nearly through Parliament.but, at least, the date for the Committee stage has been announced: February 12. Interestingly, there is an article, which is really an interview with that mostly tiresome though occasionally admirable campaigner, Peter Tatchell, in yesterday's Evening Standard.

Mostly it is very dull but then articles in the Evening Standard usually are. He does, however, give his own version of what pushed David Cameron into this politically uncertain course of action:
Back to Westminster and the apparent conversion of the PM, the Chancellor and the Home Secretary. In late 2010, continues Tatchell, he arranged for four same-sex couples and four straight couples to file applications at local registry offices for, respectively, civil marriage and civil partnership licences. All were refused, of course. In February 2011, Tatchell and human rights lawyer Robert Wintemute of King’s College London applied to the European Court of Human Rights to strike down the bans that stymied those eight couples, and told the government that, sooner or later, it would have to go to Strasbourg to defend the existing law. Meanwhile, lobbying harder than ever, Tatchell wrote a “briefing paper” extolling gay marriage as a natural extension of the Conservative Party’s traditional support for the existing institution of marriage — and, with a fair amount of chutzpah, circulated it widely within Tory circles.

“That’s when things started to happen,” he says. “Astonishingly, within three months of our application to the European Court, the Government announced that it was going to consult on legalising gay marriage. They knew that there was no argument they could use in Strasbourg that would be anything other than bigoted and intolerant. I think they realised the game was up, and decided it was better to lead on the issue and get the kudos of enacting liberal reform than be dragged through the courts. It may have been a pure coincidence, but it does strike me as very closely mirroring the pattern of events that I set in place.”
So there we are, it was the ECHR what done it. Well, up to a point because I do not think this will be resolved even when the legislation is passed as it almost certainly will be, eventually and probably with some amendments. For who can define marriage to the complete satisfaction of all?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


Google has decided to celebrate Mary Leakey's 100th birthday and some people I know are fractious. Why her? Never heard of her. (Actually, her work is of some importance.) Why not Ronald Reagan whose 102nd birthday it is or Her Majesty whose Accession took place 61 years ago? Or, as someone pointed out, not Zsa Zsa Gabor who is 96 years old today and still with us though not as visible as she used to be though still married to Frédéric von Anhalt?

But for my money, it has to be Gustav Klimt who died on February 6, 1918.

And the National Gallery informs me that there will be a major exhibition of the Portrait in Vienna in 1900 this autumn. Something to look forward to. 

The right to vote

Readers of this blog have noticed, no doubt, that I have not commented on the vote in the House of Commons yesterday. The main reason for that is that as far as I am concerned the only important news in this country of the last several days was the definite identification of Richard III's skeleton. Chris Huhne? Vicky Price? Who on earth cares or will remember them in a month's time let alone five and half centuries later?

Still, it is time to turn to matters nearer in time. Well, sort of, as I intend to go back to the seventeenth century in a minute.

I shall not discuss the rights and wrongs of same-sex marriage, being more interested in some of the other issues around it. Firstly, I should like to point out that the Bill has not been passed. It has merely had its Second Reading in the House of Commons and because of that MPs, as the Boss said,"MPs allowed (nay, encouraged) to vote". They usually vote on Second Reading but not necessarily in a general non-legislative debate. (Before we go any further, I should like to point out that the Lords very rarely divide on Second Reading, preferring to do so at the later stages. I have no doubt, that, too will be wrongly reported.)

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill is now going to Committee stage. It will not be debated by the Committee of the Whole House but the Public Bill Committee, which has been instructed to present a report by March 12 or before. So far neither composition of the Committee nor the date of the sittings have been announced but there has hardly been time for such matters.

If you scroll about half-way down this page you will read the future programme for the Bill. It comes almost immediately below the vote on the substantive issue.

Why bother to go into these picky little details that are of little interest? Why not spend time roaming through the emotional and other arguments that surround this whole question? Why not follow up the hint given by the Boss in the same posting that this Bill is merely fulfilling obligations to our real government in Brussels? The last of these I shall follow up at some later stage but the other questions answer themselves. It is because people do not know or understand these picky details of parliamentary procedure that it is so easy for those who wish to undermine the process to do so. I am extremely weary of people who whoop with joy or dissolve into tragic tears because some controversial piece of legislation "has been passed" when it has had its Second Reading in one House or another.

This brings me rather neatly to the seventeenth century and an article in History Today by Philip Baker, co-editor of The Agreements of the People, the Levellers and the Constitutional Crisis of the English Revolution about the Levellers, possibly the first political organization in England that called for political rights and, particularly, the vote for all men.

There is a tendency among some political groups to claim the Levellers as their predecessors, often inappropriately. In particular the various Occupy movements whose main slogan seemed to be more control by the government which is the exact opposite of what the Levellers wanted, a move away from the gathering of power centrally that had been happening in the sixteenth and early seventeenth century.

The Levellers were what we might call on the Left of Cromwell's New Model Army and had a good deal of civilian support. They were, men and officers, well educated and could speak and write clearly and cogently. The Putney Debates of 1647 - 49 that followed the First Agreement of the People, that is the first attempt of a more or less democratic constitution are a pleasure to read. The fact that these took place at a time when the English language was at its most glorious heights, helps.

Among other matters under discussion was the question of universal male suffrage. The Levellers were not radical enough to extend this to women despite the relatively high level of education and political involvement among women of those groups.

Philip Baker quotes one of the best known officers of the group, Colonel Thomas Rainsborough, a vehement opponent of any deal with the King:
For really, I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he; and therefore truly, sir, I think it’s clear, that every man that is to live under a government ought first, by his own consent, to put himself under that government.
That raises a number of issues, with which we are more familiar than the constitutional theoreticians of the seventeenth century were, quite apart from the question of women giving consent. What of the men who, having been given the right to consent to the government, that is to vote, refuse to do so or cannot quite be bothered? What of those who, having voted and whose candidate lost, then announce that the elected ones do not represent him? Does the mere voting indicate consent to the government? What of those, no doubt unthinkable individuals for Colonel Rainsborough, who vote not according to their conscience but according to what benefits they might receive?

In a way, Philip Baker shows the problems that lie within the admirable views of the Levellers, problems that we, some centuries later, have to face and are, apparently, unable to deal with.
Although the Agreements have long been lauded for their influence on modern constitutionalist debate, recent research has sought to relocate them within their immediate historical context. The result has been to shed important new light on their origins and influences, such as the way in which the everyday contemporary practice of oath swearing provided an important model for the attempt to reformulate the social contract through a literal agreement of the entire adult population. Meanwhile, the common perception of the Agreements as, in some sense, ‘forward-looking’ has been challenged on the grounds that it ignores the extent to which their authors were arguing for constitutional reformation and the restoration of historic, native birthright.

Closer study of the documents themselves also has much to tell us about contemporary perceptions of political life. For example, their desire to ensure greater political accountability can be related to the new freedom surrounding the reporting of parliamentary debates and investigative journalism and their revealing of corruption and factionalism. Similarly, their demand for the devolution of power to local communities was a clear reaction against the increasing centralisation and growth of ‘big government’ that was an intrinsic feature of the Civil War period but can be traced back to earlier decades, too. The corollary of decentralisation was the notion of political participation and active citizenship that lay at the heart of the Agreements. This was clearly seen as being central to political life, both in terms of the duty incumbent on the individual to serve in local office and the need for the collective and continuous oversight of those holding public positions of trust. In this fashion the Agreements combined successfully the language of civic responsibilities and duties with that of popular rights and liberties.
Our problem is (and this was foreseen by a number of post-Leveller political thinkers) that while we persist in using the language we have long ago lost the meaning; what might have worked for the few people Colonel Rainsborough really had in mind (would he really have accepted a freely voted in pro-Stuart government?) does not seem to work when spread across the many who find it difficult even to understand the very simple facts of Parliamentary procedure.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Next time ...

... you see Greek demonstrators brandishing pictures of Chancellor Merkel in Nazi uniform remember that Golden Dawn, the self-proclaimed Neo-Nazi party has members in the Greek Parliament and its current support stands at 12 per cent. They are doing considerably better than UKIP is here and that is not just because of the different electoral system.

Der Spiegel reports that the party is forming links with German Neo-Nazis, particularly in Bavaria and Nuremberg.

Will the Danes do it again?

As we know, the Danes very nearly scuppered the Maastricht Treaty and would have done if we had had a serious politician as a Prime Minister instead of John Major. He, instead of taking the opportunity of the first Danish referendum coming up with the "wrong" answer to say that this may be the time to stop and think and reconsider and so on and so on, joined the other EC (not to become the EU until the Maastricht Treaty was implemented) member states to bully Denmark into voting the "right" way the second time round.

Subsequently, the Danes made it quite clear that they did not want to be in the euro (and are not). The chances are that, had they been asked, they would have voted against the Lisbon Treaty. They were not, as their Ministry of Justice had pronounced that under the Lisbon Treaty there would be no transference of power from Copenhagen to Brussels and, therefore, there was no need for a referendum. What worried little bunnies they must have been.

However, a regular reader of this blog informs me that things might, just might stir in the state of Denmark. The information is on a Swedish blog and is about the Danish High Court having to decide whether the signing of the Lisbon Treaty by the Danish government was against that country's constitution.

It would appear that Article 20 of the Danish Constitution requires either a referendum or a five sixths majority in Parliament if powers are passed on to a transnational organization (which, of course, they were not, as the Ministry of Justice tells us and the Danes).

The Referendum Committee (which is what I take Folkeafstemningskomitéen to mean) has managed to take its case all the way up to the High Court, which will pronounce on the subject at noon on February 20. If it were any other country, I'd say that the chances of the Court doing anything except rolling over and asking the eurocrats to tickle their tummy are zero. But this is Denmark, after all, where people do odd things.

By-election coming up in Eastleigh

Gosh! Can't wait. The excitement is .... getting ..... to me ........zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Conservatives are favoured at the moment, I understand, but who knows what the turn-out will be? Will the winner manage more than 10 per cent of the electoral vote? Will UKIP manage to muster a reasonable number of votes? They ought to be able to do so in Eastleigh but that means nothing. Anyway, there we are. The news that the bones of the last Plantagenet King have been definitely identified is far more exciting even to someone who is genetically and behaviourally disposed to political nerdery.