Monday, September 30, 2013

Good luck with that

It seems that Mr Cameron who sometimes masquerades as the Prime Minister of this country has told a BBC interview that he wants to remove the words "ever closer union" from the Preamble of the Consolidated European Union Treaty. Here are those words on p. 10:
RESOLVED to continue the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe, in which decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity,
They have been there in the Preamble and ignored by British negotiators, civil servants, politicians and sundry members of the commentariat ever since the Treaty of Rome, signed by the six in 1957 and certainly given scant attention since 1972.

Though I am pleasantly surprised to hear that there  is a Prime Minister and, indeed, a leader of a main party in this country who has noted this item and has expressed a desire to get rid of it, I cannot help wondering exactly how he thinks he will go about achieving this.

Austrian coalition re-elected but feels the chill blast of unpopularity

It would appear that the general dissatisfaction with politicians and, in more general terms, the post Second World War settlement, is permeating Austria as well, though not for the first time. The grand coalition that has governed the country more or less continuously in the last five decades has been re-elected but with a combined vote of just 50.9 per cent of the vote, their worst result since the setting up of the Austrian republic after the war.
Meanwhile, populist anti-EU parties have grown to a combined 27 percent in a country where people can vote from the age of 16 and stand as candidates once they are 18.

The anti-euro, anti-immigrant Freedom Party (FPO) scored its best result since 1999, with 21.4 percent of the vote, under the leadership of 44-year old Heinz-Christian Strache, whom supporters call "HC."
Other small parties have done reasonably well.
But a new populist party led by 81-year old businessman Frank Stronach managed to enter with 5.8 percent of the vote. "Team Stronach" campaigned on splitting the euro along national lines, "because a German or Austrian euro is worth more than a Greek one" and having the death penalty reintroduced for "professional hit men."

Another newcomer to the Austrian parliament is the liberal Neos party, which scored 4.8 percent of the vote - over the four-percent threshold to make it into the legislature. The Greens are also represented in the parliament, having garnered 11.5 percent of the vote.
EurActiv reports:
Chancellor Werner Faymann's Social Democrats (SPO) offered talks with their conservative People's Party (OVP) allies to ensure that the two parties that have dominated post-war politics stay in power.

But conservative leader Michael Spindelegger was keeping his options open after both parties emerged bruised from their worst electoral showings since World War Two, together winning just 50.9% of the vote. Both men said there could be no return to business as usual in the face of dwindling support that left the Eurosceptic and anti-Islam Freedom Party (FPO) breathing down their necks.

The victory, albeit slim, bucks a trend of EU voters throwing out governments over unpopular austerity steps imposed to calm investors since the financial crisis erupted in 2008. The coalition parties in Vienna have so far avoided major structural reforms in favour of minor policy adjustments, eager not to stall the export-driven economy.

But the two big parties, already at loggerheads over tax, education and other important policy issues, need to bridge fundamental differences if they want to present a new agenda that will convince voters Austria is moving confidently ahead.
The next few months could be interesting in Austrian politics.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

And they're back

Collapsing Italian government are back. Reuters reports that
Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta will call a confidence vote in parliament after a showdown with center-right partners in his fragile coalition scuppered a vital package of budget measures on Friday and took his government to the brink of collapse.

Letta flew back from a visit to New York with coalition unity already in tatters after a threat by center-right lawmakers to walk out over former premier Silvio Berlusconi's battle against a conviction for tax fraud.

"Efficient government action is obviously incompatible with the mass resignation of a parliamentary group which should support the government," Letta said in a statement after a cabinet meeting on Friday.

"Either there is a new start and the interests of the country and its citizens are put first or this experience is at an end," he said.

Regional Affairs Minister Graziano Delrio said Letta, who met President Giorgio Napolitano on Friday, would go before parliament in the next few days to seek backing to continue.
Let's face it, collapsing Italian governments and brinkmanship in politics are all part of those European values we keep hearing about.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

"Our Campaign and our Country owe him a debt of gratitude."

Tuesday morning I went to Professor Kenneth Minogue's memorial at the very fine St Bride's Church behind Fleet Street. It was a splendid occasion with good many representatives of the British, American and Australian right, two fine addresses and several equally fine readings together with three of my favourite hymns: John Bunyan's To be a Pilgrim, Jerusalem and the great Battle Hymn of the Republic, which I last sang at the memorial to Baroness Park. It is always a pleasure to leave a memorial service not only full of thoughts about the subject of it but also full of fighting spirit. There could have been no other way of remembering Ken Minogue.

On Monday, however, I heard the sad news of another death of a man who was not as well known as Ken Minogue but who, in his own way, did a great deal for the cause of euroscepticism. When and, I am afraid, if British independence will be regained Sir Robin Williams (1928 - 2013), quondam chairman of the Anti-Common Market League and for many years, through good ones and bad, the Honorary Secretary of the Campaign for an Independent Britain will be remembered as one of the heroes of the fight. (Given that Sir Robin Williams was the Hon. Sec. of that organization from 1969 to 2008, I should have expected the CIB to have something about him on the website but I cannot find anything.)

The first time I met Sir Robin was in 1992 at the first CIB meeting I attended. I went as a guest from the Anti-Federalist League to tell them, just as I had told the Freedom Association that morning that we had published the Maastricht Treaty, which the government was holding back for reasons that it never managed to explain adequately. It was an illuminating day and I met a number of people whom I was to know well in the succeeding years. One of them was a slim gentleman of slightly military bearing who tended to bark questions and instructions. He was, as I learned then, the Secretary of the CIB and a man who tended to know all the members and what they were up to.

As I became more involved in the eurosceptic movement I started meeting Sir Robin and Wendy, his wife who would grin cheerfully at people her husband was haranguing, at various events and he began to ask me when I was going to join the CIB. Eventually, realizing that I had a rooted objection to joining any organization, he solved the problem by asking my daughter and me to lunch at their Highgate home. After the lunch we went for a walk and on returning he called me into his den, where the CIB's business was transacted and where its telephone stood, put an application form in front of me and stood over me while I filled it in and signed it. I tell the story with amusement to demonstrate Robin's determination to win as many members to his organization as he could, especially those who might then be put to work.

For to work I was put and became the CIB's press officer for some years. That was the heyday of many eurosceptic organizations, who suddenly found that their cause, which had languished for years, became once again important and well-known during and after the Maastricht debates.

Though I have seen them rarely in the last few years, I became friends with both Robin and Wendy, who gave talks at the Victoria and Albert Museum to which I went several times and from which I carried away a good deal of interesting knowledge that I can still recall after some years. No lecturer could ask for more.

It could be said that Sir Robin Williams sacrificed what must have been a promising political career to his beliefs and his opposition to Britain's entry into the Common Market. His father, the first Baronet, was a Conservative MP with an unusual background for that party. Sir Herbert Williams of Cilgeraint  (1884 - 1954) received a degree in Science and Engineering at the University of Liverpool and in 1911 became secretary and manager of the Machine Tools Trade Association. He also served on Wimbledon Borough Council. From 1924 to 1929 he was Conservative MP for Reading and a member of the first Court of the University of Reading when it received its Royal Charter in 1926. This is not the career of a nostalgically minded Tory.

Sir Herbert became MP for Croydon South in a by-election in 1932 and remained that until the Labour landslide of 1945. Despite the fact that it was his close colleague, the Conservative MP for Croydon North who proposed the Beveridge Report in the House of Commons in 1944, Sir Herbert vehemently opposed it. I cannot help feeling that with that career, Robin's father would have been a supporter of Mrs Thatcher.

Interestingly, opposing government and party leadership policy did not, in those days, mean the end of your career. Sir Herbert may have lost his seat in 1945 but was re-elected in one of the reorganized Croydon seats in 1950, remaining there till his death in 1954, having been made a baronet (something his son was rightly proud of) in 1953.

There is also a curious irony to the story: Sir Herbert's daughter Rosemary married another Baronet, Sir Ian Mactaggart, a millionaire Glasgow property developer and well-known eurosceptic; their daughter and Robin Williams's niece is Fiona Mactaggart a Labour MP of extreme left-wing views and questionable veracity in statements.

Times have changed. Sir Robin Williams was set for a political career as well and as Chairman of the Bow Group in 1954 - 55 (Geoffrey Howe's predecessor) he would have become a Conservative MP at some point if it had not been for his unfortunate tendency to speak his mind, that being quite clearly a family trait. His vehement opposition to Britain's entry into the EEC meant that he had to abandon any ideas of standing for Parliament. Instead he continued at Lloyd's and devoted his political and organizational talents to the anti-EEC/EC/EU movement.

As mentioned above, he became Chairman of the Anti-Common Market League (now called Get Britain Out) when it was formed in 1969 and remained in that position till 1984. The League was a founding constituent member of the National Referendum Campaign, a cross-party organization formed to fight for a referendum and also against Britain's entry into the Common Market. Sir Robin also became the Secretary of the Campaign for an Independent Britain that grew out of that early movement and is a continuing umbrella organization for a number of eurosceptic groups of long standing. He remained that through lean years and fat ones, when the media ignored it and when it wanted to know all about it. One look at the constituent groups would indicate the difficulty any Secretary would have in keeping them all on board, all more or less at peace with each other and all supporting the umbrella organization. It is no wonder that Robin would occasionally lose his temper in committee meetings and AGMs though he usually recovered his equanimity fairly quickly.

Let me add that his support for my activities as Press Officer for the CIB and the Anti-Maastricht Alliance as well as the organizer of the Red Lion Talks (of which I really must write some time) was unstinted.

Age was beginning to tell on Robin in the last few years though he still turned up for many meetings of the Bruges Group and other events. He was there at the May AGM of the CIB but, not being a member any longer, I went to the afternoon conference, specifically to hear the Boss on the subject of Article 50 and its consequences. Robin had left. People who had been there for the AGM have told me that he was looking very frail. In a way, I am glad I did not see him though sorry that I missed that last possible occasion to exchange a few words.

As another labourer in the same vineyard wrote to me about Sir Robin Williams: Our Campaign and our Country owe him a debt of gratitude.

ADDENDUM: The Campaign for an Independent Britain have now put up an obituary, which gives a more detailed summary of his education and career.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Merkel wins again

Not that there were any serious doubts about that but it does not look like the CDU-CSU will achieve that coveted absolute majority that would have been the first time since 1957 when it did happen under Konrad Adenauer (who, incidentally, won four elections).

Results are a little strange or so it looks at the moment. The CDU-CSU seems to be on 42 per cent, the bloc's best result since German reunification, the SDP on 25.5 per cent and the rest are in a disarray:
There was bitter disappointment for Merkel's allies in the outgoing government, the market-friendly Free Democrats (FDP), who suffered a humiliating exit from the Bundestag, the first time they will be absent from the chamber in the post-war era.

The Alternative for Germany (AfD), a new eurosceptic party that had threatened to spoil Merkel's victory by breaking into parliament for the first time, appeared to have come up just short of the 5 percent threshold required to win seats.

The young movement's hostility to euro zone bailouts and call to cut weaker southern members loose from the currency area resonated with many crisis-weary voters and may act as a brake on Merkel's conduct of European policy.

The radical Left party was set to be the third biggest force with about 8.5 percent, just ahead of the environmentalist Greens, who shed votes to finish near 8 percent.
Final allocation of seats will not be known till tomorrow. The AfD have done very well but it is sad not to see them in the Bundestag.

As a number of media outlets point out (for instance Deutsche Welle) the CDU-CSU could try to govern alone and not in a coalition but their majority would be extremely narrow and legislation very difficult.

The next stage in Russian politics

While we await the final results in the German Federal election and watch with horror the developments in Nairobi (and remember what happened earlier in Peshawar) we can sigh wearily over Russian politics.

The September 8 local and regional elections in that country brought in several results that were not, perhaps, to President Putin's liking, which is probably why he decided to tangle with President Obama: a victory even though it was only notional was more certain.

Western media, understandably, concentrated on Moscow, the very low turn-out (which was true across the country) and the achievement of Alexey Navalny but a few people noticed that elsewhere there was a victory for the oppositionist Yevgeny Roizman in Yekaterinburg, where he is now mayor.

He seems to be making a nuisance of himself.
During the 10th annual Valdai Forum in Moscow on Monday, Yekaterinburg Mayor Yevgeny Roizman and Sverdlovsk Governor Yevgeny Kuyvashev discussed issues of decentralizing the Russian government.

Roizman and Kuyvashev met during a session on regional diversity as part of the Kremlin-sponsored Valdai Forum. Roizman, an outspoken critic of Putin and his regime, told Kuyvashev, a governor selected by Putin to oversee the Urals, during the opening remarks of the Valdai Forum that he wished to “reset” the hostile political situation in the Urals, The Moscow Times reports.
In Yaroslavl an even nastier thing happened to the President: one of the people he dislikes most (the list is not all that short, as it happens) Boris Nemtsov, was elected to the regional assembly at the head of his party, Republican Party of Russia – People's Freedom Party (Russian: Республиканская партия России — Партия народной свободы, Respublikanskaya partiya Rossii - Partiya narodnoy svobody), RPR-PARNAS (Russian: РПР-ПАРНАС.

This happened despite every precaution being taken as Vladimir Kara-Murza explains:
The recent legislative election in the Yaroslavl Region, where Nemtsov headed the list of the Republican Party of Russia–People’s Freedom Party, was organized in the customary manner, with censorship on local television (even paid ads were not accepted) during the campaign and numerous violations—including “carousel voting” and vote-buying—on the September 8th election day itself. But the plan did not fully work. Official figures across the region ranged from 17 percent for Nemtsov’s party and 24 percent for Putin’s United Russia in central Yaroslavl, where independent monitors were present at polling places, to an incredible 0.5 percent and 60 percent, respectively, in the Tutaev rural district, where no such monitoring was conducted. The overall result, however, put the People’s Freedom Party above the 5 percent threshold required for entering the regional Parliament.
Does Mr Nemtsov's electoral success really matter? Apparently yes.
One would think that, although irritating, the presence of Boris Nemtsov in one of Russia’s regional legislatures would not be considered too big of a problem for the Kremlin. But it appears the authorities think otherwise. Russia’s Investigative Committee, headed by close Putin confidant Alexander Bastrykin, initiated two criminal cases against the newly elected lawmaker. One is on the charge of “battery” under Article 116 of the Russian Penal Code, which carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison; the other is on the charge of “public calls to extremist activity” under Article 280.2, which carries up to five years in prison. Both charges, if brought to conviction, would mean that Nemtsov’s Duma seat will be taken away. The second charge would additionally deprive him of the right to run in any future Russian elections, as “extremism” is considered a grave offence.
The Russian news agency RIANovosti reports only the second of the charges, the one about extremism and even they sound a little doubtful. Mr Kara-Murza explains:
The “battery” charge stems from an incident on September 5th, when a provocateur from the pro-Kremlin Stal (Steel) movement approached Nemtsov at a campaign rally and threw two raw eggs at him, which drew a response from the opposition leader. Puzzlingly, the “victim” only went to the hospital to complain of “injuries” after the election.

The “extremism” charge, meanwhile, was leveled at Nemtsov’s speech at the same September 5th campaign rally. The precise sentence that attracted the interest of prosecutors was: “the liberation of Russia from the crooks and thieves must start from Yaroslavl.” An official spokesman for the Investigative Committee accused Nemtsov of “making a public statement that contained calls for a forceful change of the foundations of the constitutional order and territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.” “With this charge, they have admitted that it is crooks and thieves who are in power, and that opposing them constitutes extremist activity,” Nemtsov observed in response to the news.
One wonders whether the Investigative Committee has noticed that virtual admission. One also wonders whether there are charges being prepared against the Mayor of Yekaterinburg.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Bloomin' 'eck!

I was absolutely determined not to blog about any of the party conferences, they being of no importance whatsoever. Thus I ignored Nigel Farage's speech that managed to steer clear of important matters such as how we get out of the EU and came up with some ridiculous predictions. (Governments often lose in the euro elections and that does not constitute a political earthquake.Get real, Nigel.)

This, however, cannot be ignored. I went out for dinner (Brasserie Zédel, since you ask) and on returning find that the oafish Bloom has actually upset even his only remaining fan, the party's Dear Leader, Nigel Farage and has been suspended pending investigation. Can't imagine what there is to investigate but I suppose they have to go through the motions. I predict he will be back.

The Boss sums up trenchantly as ever.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

All this secession stuff creates problems

Catalonia is unhappy. Actually, they have never been all that happy about being part of Spain but in the last few years they have acquired certain rights, for example that of using their own language, which had been banned under Franco and for some years afterwards. However, they are beginning to feel that the few concessions they have received is not enough. What an ungrateful lot, to be sure. They say they will be calling a referendum on independence next year about the same time that Scotland will have one though the cases are somewhat different: Scotland is not the richest part of the United Kingdom and its independence is unlikely to worry investors too much, whereas the loss of Catalonia will deal a very heavy blow to the already weak Spanish economy.

As EUObserver says:
The secessionist movement in Spain’s wealthiest region gained momentum last week after a million people locked hands to form a 400km human chain on its "border" with Spain.

Some of the organisers called for a referendum while others demanded immediate independence.

The demonstration, held on Catalonia’s national day, was a symbolic reference to the 1989 Baltic Way 600km human chain which demanded independence from the Soviet Union.
The Spanish Prime Minister says that only the Spanish government in Madrid has the right to call a referendum so all these demands are nonsense. (And we know from their attitude to Gibraltar how much attention the Spanish government pays to referendums.)

Another problem has reared its head, as described by the Wall Street Journal and EUObserver.
The European Commission's vice president said Spain's wealthy region of Catalonia would have to leave the European Union if it declared independence, remarks that disappointed many in the growing Catalan secessionist movement.

"If one part of a territory of a member state decides to separate, the separated part isn't a member of the European Union," Joaquín Almunia said on Monday during a conference in Barcelona, in one of the strongest statements on the issue by a leader of the EU's administrative body.
The EU,as we know is all in favour of strengthening regions just as long as they don't get above themselves and start demanding that they should be seen as member states. After all, what the EU wants to do away is member states, turning them into subsidiary organizations of varying sizes but all integrated into a harmonized EU. They do not want another uppity nation state messing things up at various levels.

Catalan politicians are not happy:
In an op-ed in the New York Times last week, Catalan president Artur Mas described Catalonia as a European Union partner for strengthened political unity, security and economic growth.

He said the region is bound to Spain through history and close family ties, but wants to have more control over its own economy, social services, and politics.

He noted that Catalonia pays out more on average than other regions to the central government but receives less public expenditure per capita in return.

The region fought for the Second Republic in the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939, but its defeat led to the Catalan language being outlawed under Francisco Franco’s 40-year military rule.

Catalonia's autonomy and language was not recognised again until 1978.

“Catalans are deeply pro-European and we do not imagine a future outside the European Union,” said Mas in the US op-ed.

Catalonia's pro-independence regional government economics secretary, Andreu Mas-Colell, who attended the Almunia conference, shared the sentiment.

He said Catalans belong inside Europe and that Alumnia’s statement is based on a strict legal reading.
Nor are the Catalans getting much support from those Baltic States they wish to emulate.
The press in Spain had given ample coverage to comments supporting the right of self-determination attributed to Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius, who occupies the EU's rotating presidency.

On Monday, Lithuania's Foreign Ministry posted a statement expressing "concern over the tendentious and erroneous interpretation" by the Spanish press over the Lithuanian position.

The statement said, "The Soviet occupation of the Baltic nations cannot be compared with the situation in Spain. Spain is the democratic country, a member of the European Union, our close partner in the EU and NATO."

It said all domestic matters in Spain "should be resolved according to democratic and legal measures that exist within the country, respecting the Constitution."
How will this affect matters in Scotland? As the Scotsman pointed out, this adds to the uncertainty.
The SNP Government hopes to negotiate its EU membership – including opt-outs from the euro, free travel areas and a budget cut – in the period between the referendum in September 2014 and its proposed independence day in March 2016 if Scots vote Yes.

But the future status of an independent Scotland’s place in Europe remains unresolved.
Can we, therefore, assume that any region of any member state breaking away from it loses its place in the European Union? Dear me. Have we not heard from various politicians including Hizonner the Mayor of London that EU membership is harmful to London and especially the City? Well, here is the answer. Let London declare independence from the UK, defenstrate the Westminster politicians and Whitehall civil servants, and the EU will declare that London can no longer be part of it. And the Porcine Aviation Force will take off in large numbers.

Friday, September 13, 2013

More to German history than Hitler

Or so say the moderately eurosceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. It has been my contention for a very long time that as soon as Germans seriously start appreciating that point (and many do already) the end of the EU will be nigh. It is kept together by constant references to those twelve terrible years from 1933 to 1945 and studious avoidance of everything that happened before and after.

In a report in The Irish Times we read that AfD is trying broaden its policies beyond just being against the bail-out and talking about foreign policy, harking back to that undoubted genius, Count Otto von Bismarck.
“After the experiences of the Hitler years we Germans have a tendency to view the definition and pursuit of national interests as per se a bad thing,” said Mr Alexander Gauland, a founding AfD member, in Berlin.

“This view is shared neither by our friends and neighbours nor our co-players on the world stage.”

Mr Gauland said it was time for Germany to look further than Hitler into its past for a reappraisal of the European politics of Otto von Bismarck, the Iron chancellor who united Germany.

In particular he said Germans should show greater understanding for Russia, given Russia’s support for German interests over the centuries. Neither Germany nor Europe had an interest in a further weakening of “Russia and, with it, the entire Euro-Asian space”. “We Germans sometimes forget that Russia stood by Germany at important points in its history and defended Prussia from collapse,” he said, praising Russian support during the foundation of the German Reich in 1871 and German unification in 1990.
Actually, he is wrong about Russian support for German reunification in 1990 but moderately correct about the rest. However, what we should all be looking at is the natural Anglo-German alliance, which has a long history as well, going back beyond the German Reich.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

We are doomed

Or we shall be if the story in the Daily Express has any real steam in it. Bob Crow, they tell us, possibly the most hated man in this country is launching a new anti-EU party, which will be a "workers against the EU" one, differing from UKIP in that it will not be against immigration. Well, that should make it popular in working class areas. One wonders where Mr Crow spends his time.

I am not very worried about him fielding candidates in next year's euro elections and neither should UKIP be. His lot will get somewhere around 1 per cent if they are lucky.

However, there will be the referendum campaign in a few years' time or so we think. One reason for that heavy loss in the 1975 campaign by the NO side was the vocal support of the unions and the left-wing of the Labour Party. Both were known to support the Communists and be immensely partial to the Soviet Union. I recall people saying in despair that the choice was being ruled by Brussels or by Moscow. The answer was obvious.

Times have changed and Moscow is no threat. But Bob Crow is and you can bet any amount of money on it that the BBC and the rest of the europhiliac media will be interviewing him every day as the representative of the OUT campaign.

Centre-Right wins in Norway

The BBC reported just about half an hour ago that
Norway's Labour Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has admitted defeat in Monday's general election.

The Conservatives and their allies have won a majority of the seats in parliament, according to official projections with most votes counted.

Erna Solberg, who heads the Conservative Party, is widely expected to form a government with the anti-immigration Progress Party.
No point in asking about potential EU membership. That is not even part of Norway's political dialogue any more.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Meanwhile in Australia

The Conservative Leader of the party confusingly knowns as Liberal-National, Tony Abbott, is celebrating a landslide victory though I understand from Australian friends that the result has more to do with the utter hopelessness of the Labour Party than the particular attractiveness of the Liberal and, especially, of its leader. I further understand that the Senate is likely to have a strange composition (the two Houses are elected according to different rules), which may prevent certain legislation to be put through. Might be a bad thing but also might not.

So, in the Anglosphere we now have right-leaning governments in Canada, Australia and New Zealand but alas not in the US or the UK.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Will they get a seat?

Despite all the attacks, the anti-euro party seems to be doing reasonably well in Germany. One can't predict exactly but Der Spiegel is speculating that it might be able to clear the five per cent hurdle for a seat in parliament. That, as they add, could alter the political dynamic quite a lot. Not long to go now.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

An assassination attempt?

This is not a story from Egypt, Libya or any other Middle Eastern or North African country but from Sweden. A number of Swedish media outlets and blogs reported the story that is given here in English by Blazing Cat Fur
Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who is on the death list of the terrorist network Al Qaeda because of his cartoons of Mohammed's escape an attack on Wednesday.

Vilks was with journalist Teresa Eder in the gallery Rönnquist & Rönnquist in Malmo doing an interview when an unknown man entered the gallery. He said he wanted to show Vilks a few works of art that were in a red suitcase. Vilks' bodyguard denied access to the man and asked him to show the contents of his suitcase in front of the gallery. When they discovered a firearm in it, they overpowered the man, five minutes later the Swedish police on site.
My immediate thought was (after the routine one of why have I not seen any reports of this anywhere else) that clearly Allah is protecting that man. This is not the first attempt and they have all been unsuccessful. Long may that continue.

However, there is a curious addendum to the story, which is so daft that it might actually be true: it seems that the whole thing was a misunderstanding and the seventy-year old weapon was the work of art in question or, at least, one of them.

Monday, September 2, 2013

A few additional points ...

... and then I turn my attention to some other work. One or two of these points I have made before but they seem to bear repetition:

1.      President Assad is not like Hitler, though he is a very nasty bloodthirsty dictator. For one thing, he has not invaded Austria, Czechoslovakia or Poland. It is not rational to compare every international crisis with 1938 - 39. They are different and we have to think about them differently. (NB. Let us not forget that highly respectable historians think that Britain made a mistake in declaring war on September 3, 1939 but that is another story.)

2.      Following on from that: Syria is not in the Balkans and the situation there is not the same as it was in former Yugoslavia throughout the nineties. Therefore, any comparison in required action is invalid. Or, in other words, everything is not just like everything else in international affairs and each situation has to be judged separately. 

3.     The argument of "no meddling" is meaningless in that it also says that every situation is just like every other. Sometimes we have to meddle and sometimes not. It is not the fact that this is meddling that is the problem, as I see it, but that we have no clear idea why we should do so, on whose side we want to meddle and what we hope to achieve as well as what our meddling should consist of. If those who want us to go in could answer those questions in a satisfactory fashion instead of wringing their hands and crying that we cannot just do nothing, then meddling might become an acceptable option to many more people. Certainly, it would to me, for whatever that might be worth [very little] as I do not oppose necessary intervention in principle.

4.     Those who are calling for another vote "to erase the shame" are clearly not people who approve of parliamentary democracy and consider that the EU's way of running political affairs - make them vote over and over again until we get the result we want - is far better. I hope none of those people will ever present themselves as eurosceptics again.

5.     Britain's position in the world does not depend on us rushing into every war and civil war that happens to have better photographers though, as we know, not all of those photographs are completely kosher, if I may use that word. It did not, for instance, benefit in the end from us going into Iraq as we were thrown out of there ignominiously and Basra had to be taken back by the Iraqi army with American support. [See numerous postings by the Boss over on EURef.]

6.      It would be good to think that as a result of this fiasco we are going to start that long-delayed discussion and debate as to what our national interests are, what our position in the world should be and what our foreign policy is going to be. I have no great hopes of that happening.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

I wish I could leave the subject alone

There was this vague hope that I might be able to write about something that is not Syria today but that will have to wait. There were too many articles, blogs and columns as well as cartoons in the media for me to link to them all or even most but one or two stand out in interest.

First of all, however, I should like to express some surprise and annoyance with the hacks, both as writers and as cartoonists, who appear to think that being voted down by the House of Commons is a shameful thing for David Cameron to have to endure. From being Obama's poodle (untrue) he is being described as going on to being the Commons' poodle. That is a curious view of what representative democracy and a balance of power between the legislative and the executive might be. In fact, we do not have proper balance of power but last week's vote made a tiny step towards creating one, a tiny step in the centuries' long struggle that our media hacks do not seem to have heard of.

I am even less impressed by the suggestion that once Congress has voted (I am coming to that) and voted the "right" way, the Commons should be asked to vote again. Perhaps they would have changed their minds by then. Ahem. Isn't there a political construct that does just that: makes people vote again and again until they come up with the required answer? Is that what representative parliamentary democracy is in these people's opinion?

In yesterday's posting I wrote at length that I do not think our position in the world requires us or depends on us rushing into every war or civil war that happens to have good photographers around (even if the photos sometimes get muddled like those of the bodies in Syria .... ahem ... Iraq did), adding that, despite John Kerry's posturings and President Obama's obvious dislike of this country, the Anglo-American special relationship is likely to survive and flourish in the future.

Which brings me to a curious development. It would appear that President Obama is following in the Boy-King's footsteps, possibly hoping for the same outcome. Although it is not required by the US Constitution and although the President has stated that the US was about to launch an attack on Syria, he is, nevertheless, going to seek Congress's approval on September 9. Apparently, this last-minute decision surprised his advisers, who told him that he can go ahead without consulting Congress. How will this affect the forthcoming fiscal negotiations with Congress? There was a suggestion in The Hill that the strike on Syria would help the President "to reverse the automatic spending cuts to the Pentagon known as sequestration". That, however, was written before the decision to seek Congress's approval for military intervention of whatever kind.

Fraser Nelson says that President Obama's decision to consult Congress is a compliment to David Cameron who went to Parliament. Possibly. It could easily be the action of a desperate man who simply cannot make up his mind what to do.

There are only two other links I want to put up. One to a somewhat unimpressive article by Charles Moore, who thinks the world has not become a better place because of Thursday's vote, a ridiculous and meaningless statement. The world is never a good place and rarely becomes better as a result of political decisions by a country. But then, he also says
Yesterday morning, Britain woke up and found it no longer had a functioning foreign policy. “We might as well turn all our embassies into car showrooms,” one Cabinet minister told me bitterly.
Dear Mr Moore, we have not had a functioning foreign policy for quite a long time and, as long as we stay in the EU, we do not need or require embassies. If there were not so many people in the FCO who need appointments abroad we could have closed them down long ago with nobody noticing the difference. In the end, Mr Moore seems to come to no obvious conclusion as to whether the vote and the control it exerted over the Prime Minister and the Royal Prerogative was a good thing or a bad.

Finally, there is a well argued though very angry piece by Caroline Glick, with whom I do not always agree but whose thoughts in this case are very well worth reading. Interestingly, she along with numerous Israeli commentators, does not think that an American strike would be a good idea. Supporting the rebel groups is not in anyone's interests and one cannot strike at Assad without doing that.

Which brings me very neatly to my last point. This afternoon I took part in a programme on the BBC Russian Service, a large part of which was a discussion of Syria and the various reactions to the crisis, including that vote. I had a good deal of fun explaining that to Russian listeners.

There was also a long discussion with a Syrian journalist who lives and works in Beirut but keeps in close contact with his home country and who could speak good Russian as well as an Israeli journalist who spoke excellent Russian.

Neither of them could explain clearly the various groups and divisions in Syria, especially as far as the rebels were concerned. The Syrian expressed the view that Assad's rule was highly unpopular and people served in his forces only for financial reasons. Nevertheless, he repeated several times, nobody wants Western intervention either. This has been echoed by other Syrian commentators as well.

The Israeli journalist talked of the situation in her country, which is not, she maintained, nearly as difficult as the media makes out. The mobilization has been on a very small scale and, while there are queues in shops and for gas masks, the atmosphere was no longer one of panic. To the question of whether the Israeli government preferred Assad to stay as many of the rebels were Islamists and linked to Al-Qaeda she said two interesting things, one of which I have heard before.

As has been said in various places, people with wounds of various kinds have been crossing the Israeli border to be treated in their far superior hospitals by their far superior doctors. Treatment is given to all and no questions are asked as to where the particular fighters had come from. I would like to think that, while doctors ask no questions, other people in different uniforms also turn up to find out one or two things about what really goes on in Syria.

Secondly, she said that it is well known that the Israeli government has been making contact with one or two of the bigger rebel groups' leaders. That is hardly surprising. Unlike Western governments and commentators the Israelis will have to live with the outcome of the present crisis, whatever it might turn out to be. They can have no exit strategy.