Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Another anti-Communist film

Well, yes, I had intended to write various pieces in this week about Greece, Sweden and Russia as well as the bizarre choice of Briton of the Year by the once august newspaper now an absolute rag, the Times. But, somehow, time has gone by and I decided to end the year with a few episodes from one of the greatest of all anti-Communist films, Billy Wilder's One, Two, Three.

First off, here is the best torture scene ever. The young man who admits to being "ein amerikanische spion" has actually been set up by the CEO of Coca Cola in West Berlin, played brilliantly by James Cagney, for various well-founded reasons, which he then regrets. But the scene with the Stasi and the subsequent appearance of the three Soviet commissars is well worth seeing.

I don't think this film is particularly well known so it is worth putting up several excerpts if only to encourage readers to seek it out. (At least one reader knows it already.)

So here is the beginning, one of the fastest moving, funniest, most brilliant beginnings to a film anyone can imagine.

Let us have one more scene. East German entertainment gets livened up as Cagney tries to trade with the Soviet commissars. And yes, the German guy's name is Piffle. Wouldn't you know it, as Cagney says on first meeting him.

Enough, already. Go and find the film.

What else can I add to the last posting of 2014? Oh yes. That Times Briton of the year, a somewhat shifty politician who has achieved nothing. The Times seems to have a very low opinion of the British people. I do not share it and I, as well as many others, resent the assumption behind that choice.

On that note, let me wish all my readers a very happy and prosperous New Year. See you next year.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Bah humbug!

It has become something of a Christmas tradition for me to grouse about Christmas classics like The Christmas Carol or It's a Wonderful Life. Well, this year I am striking out in a new direction. No Christmas fare on this blog, thank you very much. Instead, I am starting a series of excerpts from anti-Communist films. (All suggestions gratefully accepted.)

To start with, a nice easy one (believe me, they are not all like this): Peter Lorre, Jules Munshin and Joseph Buloff as the hapless commissars in Silk Stockings singing about their probable fate:

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Mixed news from the House of Lords

Two Questions from Lord Stoddart of Swindon. The first one was straightforward as was the reply:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Statement by Lord Deighton on 26 November (WS 37) concerning the meeting of ECOFIN on 7 November, whether they plan to continue their opposition to the proposed Financial Transaction Tax; and whether they will indicate that they will not facilitate the collection of the tax in the United Kingdom.
HMG, in the shape of Lord Deighton reassured everyone:
The UK is not participating in the Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) proposed to be adopted by 11 EU member states.

The Government strongly objects to certain extraterritorial aspects of the European Commission’s proposal, which in our view breach EU Treaty requirements.

While any eventual FTT is likely to be significantly narrower in scope than the current proposal the Chancellor has been clear that the government will not hesitate to renew its legal action against the FTT if our concerns are not addressed.
Well, that's a relief or partially so, as the chances of HMG holding out are not very strong, if past experience is anything to go by.

The second Question elicited a more intriguing reply:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Statement by Lord Deighton on 26 November (WS 37) concerning the meeting of ECOFIN on 7 November, what will be the effect of the proposed amendment to Directive 2011/96/EU; and whether it transfers further powers over taxation to the European Union.
Once again it was Lord Deighton who replied (well, to be quite precise, as these Questions were written one, the minions dealt with it all, with nary an intervention by the Minister):
The amendment to Article 1 of the Parent Subsidiaries Directive introduces an anti-abuse measure, which requires Member States to withdraw the benefits of the Directive with respect to tax arrangements, where gaining a tax advantage through exploiting the Directive is a main purpose.

UK officials have worked successfully to incorporate UK changes into the text. These ensure that the rule is proportionate, is in line with OECD recommendations on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting, and does not delegate further powers to the Commission.
I shall leave the details to the financial experts among my readers (there must be some) but would like to point out something interesting. The new rule is in line with OECD recommendations. That is in line with what the Boss has been saying for quite a long time (and it feels even longer): it is not always the EU that decides on these and related matters. There are organizations above and beyond it and the EU merely puts their rules and recommendations into place.

How could I forget the Red Lion talks?

This is becoming something like "Chapters from my life in euroscepticism" - a tragicomedy. When I wrote yesterday about the many eurosceptic publications that I uncovered on the top shelves of my study and the depression inspired by those failed hopes I forgot about the Red Lion Talks. How could I?

As a matter of fact, I did mention them once, in my obituary of Sir Robin Williams, the Secretary of both the CIB and of the Anti-Maastricht Alliance for many years.

Some time between the two Danish referendums on the Treaty of Maastricht Alan Sked and I were invited to address the various groups that were fighting for a second no vote in Copenhagen. The meeting was very different from the ones we were used to: instead of the usual format of audience and speakers on the podium we spoke informally (in English) in a cafe. People turned up, ordered drinks, sat at tables and chatted to us afterwards.

What a good idea, I thought, and raised the subject at the next Anti-Maastricht Alliance committee meeting. Of course, in England the meetings would have to be in a pub rather than a cafe but apart from that there need to be no difference. A format of that kind might well attract an audience who would not bother to fight its way through security in Parliament or attend meetings at the LSE. If the talks turn out to be successful other people in other cities might start some, too.

Financially, only a very small outlay was required and I started organizing. The Red Lion Pub is the nearest pub to Westminster, on the corner of Whitehall and Derby Gate, well known to all in the political world and easy to get to for other people. As it happens, at the time they did not serve dinner in the upstairs room and one could hire it for a small sum, assuming that many of the audience would patronize the bar.

The talks ran for several years, as I asked various people, some of whom spoke at other eurosceptic meeting, some of whom kept away from them, to cover subjects related to the European Union. I have particular memories of Noel Malcolm (now Sir Noel) talking about the common foreign policy and, another time, about the EU and the Balkans; of Professor Kenneth Minogue (alas, no longer with us) speaking to an audience that filled the room, the corridor outside and the stairs that led to the staff quarters about democracy and bureaucracy; of Peter Shore talking about British history (on the whole, I did not want MPs pontificating at the Red Lion but I made exceptions for Peter and for Sir Richard Body). Many others come to mind as well: Professor Antony Flew, Dr Martin Holmes, then Co-Chaiman of the Bruges Group, a slightly less likely speaker, Caroline Ellis from Charter 88, Bill Jamieson who explained very clearly the economic advantages of being outside the EU, James Sherr who talked about the EU and Russia, Christopher Booker speaking to another crowded room and corridor about the regulatory disasters and, of course, the Boss. And so on, and so on.

The talks went on for several years. I produced a six-monthly programme and advertised wherever I could, including Time Out and various other outlets. The bar made good money and, sad person that I am, there were even pitta bread sandwiches that I prepared.

All but one of the talks were recorded but only two have been transcribed, one of Noel Malcolm's and Peter Shore's, which was published in the European Journal. The box with the tapes are also among the many objects I have to sort out as I restore my study. They will not be thrown out. (The various pamphlets and papers were not either.)

After several years I noticed that the talks mostly consisted of the same people saying the same things to the same audience. Time to bring them to an end, I decided, and I did. This was one of the most sensible decisions I made. It is all too easy to carry on with something because it is there, beyond what might be called the sell-by date.

Should I revive them? Would anyone be interested in the age of Farage versus Brand? I have serious doubts. But, maybe I should transcribe them and publish them on line, just to remind everyone of what the eurosceptic debate was like once upon a time.

Monday, December 15, 2014

À la recherche du temps perdu

Yes, yes, I know there is an English translation of that title but, somehow, In Search of Lost Time does not have the same evocative sound. Readers will just have to put up with the French version.

The process is, in fact, not so much evocative as depressing. As a consequence of urgent building works I have had to move everything out of the room I rather grandly call my study. (Others call it something else and make pointed references to the piles of books, papers and sundry other material, now piled up in various other parts of the house.

This morning I decided to tackle the mess that was masquerading as books, pamphlets and journals on two of the top shelves. Having removed them and cleared the shelves from the building rubble that had accumulated there over the past weeks, I began to sort things. Some journals went into the recycling bag immediately. Long out of date ones I have never read and not likely to do so.

Then I sorted the papers, pamphlets and books. That was when depression descended on me. They were all those papers etc that were written in 1992 -3 when we were fighting the Maastricht Treaty, later on when we were fighting other treaties or the euro, and a few written in between. They all tried to prove what a bad idea Britain's participation the project was, explained that the only reforms we could have were those that furthered integration and tried to deal with such questions as "how do we get out" and "what do we do afterwards". Sounds familiar? Yes, to me as well. And I did not even look at the various issues of such publications as the European Journal, which, at one time, published a good many of my articles as well. Or other journals and periodicals.

Of course, one could argue that we have moved a little. We are not in the euro though that was mostly Gordon Brown's doing with a good deal of help from James Goldsmith and it is now possible to discuss Britan's exit from the EU in a more or less serious fashion (unless you happen to be a member of UKIP).

As against that, one must point out that we are further away from that exit than we have been for some time, with little evidence that public opinion is coming round to our point of view. Just recently I was once again informed by a couple of young politicos that they really needed a good deal more time before they could seriously accept the notion that coming out would be quite a good idea. How much time would they need, I asked politely. There was no clear answer.

Many of those papers, pamphlets, books are of very high quality and deal with various aspects of the problem seriously and coherently. Perhaps, the young politicos of my acquaintance could try reading them and find out the arguments instead of re-inventing the political wheel.

One cannot help feeling depressed when on looks at all that material, remembers the work that went into it all and the hopes that accompanied that work. Just one more push, we thought over and over again.

Well, we have pushed and pushed some more. What have we achieved in reality? Nigel Farage v. Russell Brand. Golly gosh.

Not looking good

Greece, readers of this blog will not be surprised to hear, is still in trouble and, as that great economist, Vicky Pryce put it in today's Evening Standard, this shows that the Eurozone's troubles are not over (did anyone actually believe they were?). In fact,
Stock markets across Europe have been falling as Greek troubles threaten to bring down the whole EU economy.
Ms Pryce ought to realize that there is no such thing as "the whole EU economy" but, clearly, Greece's continuing troubles do not help. Neither do the various other problems:
This time Greece is not alone. There are worries about growth prospects in China, concerns about the struggling Japanese economy, and fears that the decline in the price of oil reflects a slump in demand due to weakening world growth. In the UK, the FTSE 100 was 6.6 per cent down in the week, as energy companies took big hits, with Brent crude falling to $61 a barrel on Friday, less than half the price of $115 a barrel in June this year. Concerns about stagnation and deflation led to widespread falls in stock markets across the eurozone.

With Italy back in recession and France in increasing difficulty, one might imagine Greece’s problems are small by comparison. After all, the country represents no more than two per cent of the eurozone’s GDP. But it has become the symbol of the eurozone’s sustainability.

Greece’s fresh problems have been exacerbated by a return to political instability. Greece had been given an extension of two months to meet its bail-out conditions for the final instalment for its €250 billion loan from the “troika” of the European Central Bank, European Union and IMF. This in turn meant that Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras could not obtain agreement to exit the conditional arrangements of the bail-out package by the end of this year, as Ireland and Portugal have done.
So, a snap presidential election by MPs will happen and the EU is apparently worrying:
EU commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker has warned Greece against electing "extreme forces" into power and said he would prefer "known faces" - so far the strongest intervention of the EU top brass in the Greek campaign.

"I think that the Greeks - who have a very difficult life - know very well what a wrong election result would mean for Greece and the eurozone," Juncker said during an Austrian public tv debate with EUobserver and several other Brussels-based journalists.

He steered clear of explicit political advice ahead of presidential elections in Greece next week but said: "I wouldn't like extreme forces to come to power."

The presidential elections - to be held in the Greek parliament on 17 December - could trigger early parliamentary elections, if there are three failed attempts to elect a president.
Will the Greeks listen to these wise words? Who can tell? Just in case, Pierre Moscovici, the Economics Commissioner has flown to Athens for last minute negotiations:
Moscovici’s visit is meant to focus on reaching agreement on the last economic reforms Greece must make before the final tranche of €1.8 billion from its €240 billion bailout is paid out - however the dynamics of the presidential election are set to take centre stage.

Antonis Samaras’ governing coalition, led by the centre-right New Democracy party, brought forward the presidential elections this month in a bid to stave off early parliamentary elections that it fears could bring the left-wing Syriza opposition to power.

The vote will be held in the Greek parliament on 17 December. It could trigger parliamentary elections, if there are three failed attempts to elect a president.

The government is reliant on the support of several minor parties for its majority and has raised the spectre of Greece being forced out of the eurozone if Syriza takes power.
Meanwhile, things are not looking good in Belgium, either. Indeed, it has been "paralyzed by a general strike".
The entire Belgian airspace is closed on Monday (15 December), as well as high-speed trains from Brussels to London, Paris and Amsterdam and local buses, trams and metro lines, as part of a general strike over public sector cuts.

Schools, government offices and private firms are also likely to be closed on Monday. Garbage will not be picked up and newspapers will not be delivered.

Serious traffic jams are expected around Brussels and Antwerp, with transport trade unions calling on truck drivers to join in and "paralyse the country".

Trade unions already staged a huge march which ended in violent clashes with police a month ago, when the government first announced the plans to save €11 billion over the next five years. The measures include scrapping an automatic indexation of salaries next year and raising the retirement age from 65 to 67 from 2030.

Belgium last month was flagged up together with Italy and France and given time until March to bring its budget in order or face extra scrutiny from the EU commission.

Unlike France, Belgium is sticking to the three-percent budget deficit rule, but its public debt is set to reach 107.8 percent of GDP in 2017, compared to 104.5 percent last year. Under EU rules, countries should keep their public debt below 60 percent of GDP.
If memory serves me right, this kind of thing was not going to happen once the euro was established.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Sometimes one finds out things in the House of Lords

Lord Stoddart of Swindon has been busy again (and a good thing, too). He asked HMG
what was the value of United Kingdom overseas aid administered by the European Union in 2013; and what they expect the figure to be in 2014.
This blog would argue that it matters little who administers overseas aid as it is likely to lead to waste and corruption in any case and is unlikely to lead to economic development. But I digress.

HMG in the shape of Baroness Northover replied:
In 2013, the UK share of official development assistance funded from the EU budget was £813 million. UK’s contribution to the European Development Fund (EDF), a Member States voluntary fund not financed from the EU budget but also administered by the Commission, was £407 million. Estimates for the UK share of official development assistance funded from the EU budget in 2014 will be published in April 2015 as part of the provisional ODA: GNI statistics publication for 2014. The UK’s contribution to the EDF in 2014 is currently estimated to be £328 million.
That is quite a lot of money that is wasted or used to shore up corrupt and oppressive governments and organizations. Let us not forget that the UK gives money to these directly as well as through the EU and through the UN. So, we give overseas aid several times over.

One of the organizations we give aid to directly as well as part of the EU is the unspeakable UNRWA, whose purpose is to keep Palestinians in refugee camps and refugee status. It so happens that I went to a presentation on the subject a couple of days ago and intend to write about it in detail quite soon.

Back to Lord Stoddart. He also asked:
whether they will now answer the question originally asked namely, “whether they will consider recommending withdrawal from the European Union if their objectives cannot be met through negotiations”.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns replied:
The Government’s position remains the same: the European Union must reform to become more competitive, democratically accountable and fair for those inside and outside the Eurozone. The need for reform is widely acknowledged amongst the EU Institutions and other Member States.

The UK’s membership of the EU brings many benefits to the UK, including jobs and investment; a strong collective voice to negotiate free trade agreements; and greater international influence on global threats such as climate change and Ebola.

This was demonstrated at the recent European Council last October where EU leaders agreed to the 2030 climate and energy policy framework—the world’s most ambitious targets so far—as well as agreeing to increase EU financial help to fight Ebola to €1 billion.
I take it that is a no.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A government crisis in Sweden

By that I mean that the Swedish government has fallen and a snap election has been called for the first time in fifty years. Whether that is a crisis or not I leave readers to determine.

EUObserver ticker gives the news baldly:
Sweden's minority Social Democrat government may fall on Wednesday, prompting new elections, after only two months in office. The political crisis results from the far-right Sweden Democrat party announcing its support for the centre-right Alliance opposition bloc's alternative 2015 budget. The Alliance and the far-right hold a majority together.
Reuters gives us more in a more up-to-date story:
Sweden will hold its first snap election for more than half a century in March after a far-right party helped defeat the center-left minority government's first budget in parliament on Wednesday.

Formed after a fractured September election that handed the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats the balance of power, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven's Social Democrat-Green coalition has been widely viewed as Sweden's weakest government in decades.

Shunned by mainstream parties, the Sweden Democrats have threatened to make Sweden effectively ungovernable unless the country adopts tough immigration policies like those of nearby Denmark, including a 90 percent cut in asylum seeker numbers.
Of course, shunning a party that has some electoral support is never a good idea but the Swedish main-stream parties are not the first to make that mistake.

The issue here is not anything seriously evil but whether Sweden should continue its open door immigration policy, given that it puts the famed Swedish welfare model under strain and has caused a number of problems with communities that have no intention to integrate into the Swedish society. Indeed, some have demanded that Swedish society should adjust to their standards.

At the very least, this should be debated and, as things stand, the Sweden Democrats are making sure it will be.
The rise of the Sweden Democrats has also threatened to break a decades-old agreement across the political spectrum on an open door policy for refugees. Former Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has called Sweden a "humanitarian superpower".

Mattias Karlsson, the acting head of the Sweden Democrats, vowed his party would turn the upcoming election into "a referendum for or against increased immigration to Sweden".

Sweden was the biggest per-capita recipient of asylum seekers and refugees last year, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
It is entirely possible that the instability caused by a certain blindness on the part of the main stream parties will continue after the next election. It is all a new experience for Sweden.

Some readers might like to recall what was on this blog on the subject in September.

Really worth protecting!

Today, dear readers, we go back to the House of Lords where another of this blog's favourite people, Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked a question:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what was the total trade deficit or surplus with the European Union in goods and services between 2010 and 2013; and what is their estimate of any deficit in 2014 to date.
There are certain advantages to asking purely factual questions that cannot be twisted too much. Even Lord Livingstone's official had to come up with some figures:
UK’s trade deficit with the European Union was £28.5bn in 2010, £21.7bn in 2011, £39.5bn in 2012 and £56.2bn in 2013. Currently, UK trade balance figures cover the period up to the second quarter of 2014. In the first half of 2014, UK’s trade deficit with the European Union was £25.5bn.
Remember those figures next time some idiot or europhiliac (but I repeat myself) tells you how vital and important Britain's membership of the EU is to its trade with the rest of the EU.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


Really, HMG is going to have to find some official who can produce better answers to Written (and Oral) Questions in Parliament, especially in the House of Lords. They obviously rely on the fact that very few people bother to read either the questions or the answers. Well, this blog intends to do something about that.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked a reasonably sensible question:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord Livingston of Parkhead on 19 November (HL2689), what evidence they have of the United Kingdom enjoying benefits which are derived from enhanced competition and innovation as members of the Single Market which it would not have enjoyed had it not been in that Market.
To which HMG in the shape Lord Livingston or Parkhead replied:
The Single Market encourages competition by removing barriers to trade between EU members. An increase in competition can be expected to reduce prices and increase choice for consumers, encourage firms to innovate, reallocate resources to more productive means, and boost macroeconomic performance. The European Commission have estimated that the competition and innovation impacts of the Internal Market Programme have boosted EU GDP by over 2%.
Well, gosh, a whole 2% across the EU. All the same it did not actually answer the question, which was about the UK. Does HMG not know the difference?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Keep her for entertainment, say I

I have been told by one of the less entertaining readers of this blog that I have out-Thornberried Ms Emily Thornberry of whom I had actually heard even before the low-grade scandal she was involved in that made her name so well known. Not many other people had. As insults go it is not much. I have had far better ones in my life but I do think a short paragraph about the former Shadow Attorney-General is a good way of starting a posting about entertainment in politics.

The whole Thornberry saga showed her stupidity, the ease with which her Leader could be thrown into panic and the general dullness and, as I said above, low grade of politics in this country. That, as it happens, is a good thing. Dull politics enlivened by the odd bout of entertainment is an excellent system to live under. A good many countries are envious of that, their politics being considerably more exciting and frightening. I do not wish to change things, not even to satisfy the People's Will.

All the same, entertainment is needed from time to time and the departure of Cherie Blair from the public scene has taken a good deal of it away. That is why we are so grateful to Ms Thornberry for brightening our days (just a few of them, to be sure, but it is better than nothing) as the new recruits to the People's Army are not likely to do that.

There is, however, another female politician who provides some entertainment (not on the Cherie scale but that was a superlative effort). I speak, of course, of the egregious Cathy Ashton or Baroness Ashton as she is better known, former High Panjandrum of the EU's Common Foreign Policy and before that many things, particularly Treasurer of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament though, apparently, she had no idea but none at all, where some of the funds came from.

As this blog mentioned before, la Ashton may have been superseded as the High Panjandrum but was staying on to "complete" the negotiations with Iran. Readers of this blog will not be surprised to hear that although, according to Secretary of State Kerry the negotiations have gone on very well, the deadline has again been pushed forward to next July.

The EU is now wondering what to do with la Ashton. Do we keep her till then, assuming that the deadline will undoubtedly have to be extended again?
For her part, Ashton - the EU’s former foreign policy chief, who has chaired the nuclear talks for the past 12 months - on Monday read out a joint EU-Iran statement and left the press room without taking questions.

She stepped down from her EU post on 1 November, but was kept in the nuclear talks until Monday’s initial deadline.

Her new boss, Italy’s Federica Mogherini, told press in Strasbourg the same day that she is consulting with the US and Germany on whether to keep Ashton in place until July.

“That’s for me to consider”, Mogherini noted. “It will be decided in the coming days”.

She added there is “a little bit of disappointment, we were all hoping for an agreement tonight [but there is] … also a little bit of hope”.

"It's important that negotiations will continue”.
Federica Mogherini is the new High Panjandrum and she has already provided us with one good story: on November 7 RFE/RL reported that her chief spokesperson, Catherine Ray, married a partner in a Brussels public relations firm that lobbied for Gazprom. Love, of course, can blossom in the most unlikely conditions but is there not a hint of a clash of interests here? Goodness me, no, announced the EU. Everything is ship-shape and Bristol fashion. I am rather looking forward to what else Signora Mogherini and her office might produce by way of entertainment.

However, we cannot rely on them solely or on Ms Thornberry whose days as a comedienne may well be over. We need Baroness Ashton as well. We also do not want her back in the House of Lords, demeaned though it has been by this and the Blair governments. Keep her on as negotiator-extraordinaire with Iran, say I.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Apparently you don't have to become a People's Army recruit

Owen Paterson, who can now take the position Douglas Carswell occupied until recently, of being the most important back bencher on the government side, has called for the Prime Minister to announce before he starts negotiating with other EU member states that he intends to activate Article 50 and to start the process of British withdrawal.

I hear tell that the Boss is lurking somewhere in the shadows, advising Mr Paterson but it is not clear whether the latter will go along with the EURef idea of Flexcit (look it up on EURef).
Mr Paterson made clear his own preferred option would be for the UK to withdraw from the political structures of the EU and instead, like Norway, forge a trade deal, which would include access to the single market.

After his speech, he told the BBC that Britain had come to a "fork in the road" in its relationship with the EU.

He said: "To sort out the nightmare of the euro, they have got to form a cohesive, effective new state

"And meanwhile, we withdraw from the political arrangements and we concentrate on trade, which gives us an opportunity to get our seat back on the supra-national bodies which actually decide regulation affecting virtually every business in this country."

Downing Street did not comment ahead of the speech but the BBC's assistant political editor Norman Smith said it would have been met with a "collective groan" given No 10's negotiating objectives were likely to be much more limited.
I may be prejudiced (well, OK, I am prejudiced) but if I were Mr Cameron I would be much more worried about well argued statements of this kind from a man who is respected in the party and is very unlikely to join the People's Army who has long ago abandoned any idea of fighting for Brexit, in any case.

So what now from the great recruits of the People's Army? Will they start competing in statements or will they stick to the UKIP policy of just calling for a referendum and warning about foreigners getting jobs here?

I hope not for Romania's sake

We shall have to wait and see what the election of Klaus Iohannis will actually mean for Romania as they have not had a great deal of joy with previous Presidents. There is something ominous about the comparisons being made between him and Barack Obama.
Iohannis is Romania's newly-elected president.

After his surprise win on Sunday (16 November), when the German-speaking, Lutheran mayor of Sibiu became the first Romanian president from an ethnic and religious minority, he is being compared to Barack Obama - the first black president of the US.

On Facebook, he has just passed 1.1 million fans, more than German leader Angela Merkel or Italy’s Matteo Renzi.

But despite his popularity, he is neither a populist, nor, like Obama, a gifted orator.

In his victory speech on Monday, Iohannis, a 55-year old physics teacher, was as down-to-earth as it gets, his main message being: “The campaign is over. Let's get to work now”.
That does not sound like too bad a speech to me.

Obama populist and gifted orator. How very nostalgic. Nobody can possibly believe either of those statements any more. President Obama is highly unpopular as the latest mid-term elections showed and it has long ago been recognized that he is lot without his teleprompter.

In fact, given that Barack Obama is turning out to be one of the worst Presidents the United States has ever had it is to be hoped that Romanian President Iohannis will not emulate him in any way.

Let us not forget that, unlike President Obama, President Iohannis is a member of our real government.

These days they have to borrow the money

Among my reading matter (together with that huge Stalin biography, volume 1) is another book in the excellent Yale Annals of Communism series about the Comintern and its activity. Among the various activities that occupied that organization and its various officials (and one has to remember the turn-over was rather high) was the vastly important one of distributing funds to various Communist parties in the West though mostly to the secret branches as well as other organizations like trade unions.

How times have changed. These days parties that are strapped for cash but are happy to include praise of the Putin regime among their activities have to borrow the money and not directly but from a bank.
The far-right French party, Front National (FN), borrowed €9 million from a Russian bank, posing questions over its relationship with the Kremlin.

The loan, by the First Czech Russian Bank (FCRB), was granted in late September, according to a report out on Saturday (22 November) in Mediapart, an online investigative journal.

It notes the FCRB is de facto owned by Roman Popov, a financier with close ties to the Russian political establishment.

Wallerand de Saint-Just, the FN’s treasurer, told Mediapart the loan was organised by Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, an FN euro-deputy.

“We’d been looking for a loan for a long time, notably to finance our election campaigns. Our bank, like many other French and European banks, categorically refused to lend a single centime to the FN or to FN candidates”, he said.

“So Mr Schaffhauser … who has had good relations in Russia for a long time, said: ‘Let me go and see this bank’.”

De Saint-Just denied the FCRB loan amounts to foreign interference in French politics, saying he has never met Popov and has only had contact with the bank’s “technical" staff.
I cannot believe that the Front National's treasurer can be quite so naïve. He can, of course, think that he will be able to outwit the people he is playing with, that is the Russian political establishment and its running dogs (to quote an old phrase) but I am not sure I would be putting any money on him against Mr Popov.

More on the story by France24 here.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Mark Reckless keeps his seat

What with builders working on the back wall and having to read the huge first volume of the latest mammoth biography of  Stalin by Stephen Kotkin in a fortnight when London Library will demand it back, I have found it hard to work up any kind of enthusiasm for the tale of the People's Army's latest recruit who seems to be under the impression that there has been a "real revolution" going on in this country since that day in September when he left the Conservatives to join the aforementioned People's Army. Nor have I been particularly interested in the sad tale of the stupid Labour MP (ex-Cabinet member) who tweeted some kind of an insulting picture and comment about the driver of a white van. (I think I have that right.) If you are that stupid you should not be in politics at all, unless you happen to be defending your seat in a by-election under a different flag against a couple of underwhelming candidates though the Conservative one seemed to be more underwhelming than anyone else. Given that she was an idiot who called for a boycott of Israel (does she actually know what that would entail?) and was generally hopeless at every occasion, she did not do all that badly. The expected 15 per cent margin for UKIP did not materialize.

Reckless kept his seat by 2,920 votes, that is 42.1 per cent of the total vote cast in a turn-out of 50.67 per cent against the Conservatives' 34.8 per cent. Tchah! Stalin used to get 99.8 per cent. Now that's what I call popular support.

The Boss has a highly entertaining rant analysis on the whole subject, which is well worth reading, as always. He points out quite fairly that the new UKIP (ex-Conservative) MP is not the brightest person in the House of Commons and has already been caught out in a number of stupid and ignorant comments, particularly, needless to say, to do with immigrants and their status.

Now that UKIP has two MPs the question of whether they understand whereof they speak will become important. It will no longer be sufficient to produce another picture of our Nige drinking beer or wine and grinning happily into the camera. The media might finally start asking about policies and wondering about certain contradictions in them. There will also be, I can confidently predict, a certain tension between the Dear Leader and the two MPs who will now be the obvious sources of information about UKIP and its policies (or some version thereof).

Meanwhile, the BBC, the Telegraph and, indeed, everyone else has quoted Nigel Farage as saying that this will mean dozens of UKIP seats in the next Parliament. The Telegraph, curiously, predicts a nice round number instead of the dozens but then they also predict a sizeable Labour majority, which is not indicated by the opinion polls, all of which show Labour merely 3 or 4 points ahead, a statistically negligible figure while the Thornberry saga and their poor performance in the by-election must give their strategists somewhat gloomy thoughts. In fact, if the Conservatives abandon their candidate in Rochester and Strood and find someone more intelligent (though it is not clear that intelligence is of any interest to the voters of that constituency) they stand a good chance of taking it in May.

The Dear Leader is also quoted as saying (something we have all head recently) that "if you vote UKIP you get UKIP" in response to baseless (in this case) accusations of voting UKIP will get you Labour. In Rochester and Strood voting UKIP got you Mark Reckless, exactly as voting Conservative in 2010 did.

Somewhere in the long continuous Telegraph update there is a mention of some hack asking Douglas Carswell (the previous recruit to the People's Army) about the possibility of more Conservative MPs defecting to UKIP. He snaps crossly that he is completely uninterested in what the Conservatives (his friends and colleagues until August) intend to do. That would indicate that he does not think there will be any more defections as Reckless's victory is not big enough to encourage any more of them.

The Lib-Dims did particularly badly, getting 0.87 per cent, that is 349 votes; they were easily overtaken by the Greens with 1,692 votes, that is 4.22 per cent and another lost deposit.

It is worth noting that in 2010 when Mark Reckless won as a Conservative, the turn-out was 64.9 per cent and Reckless's majority was 9,953, that is he won by 20.7 per cent.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The view from over here - 2

And so to the European Union. Russian aggression would not be so bad, would not even happen if President Putin "not a particularly wise man but not stupid, either" had not sensed a basic weakness in the West and, in particular, in the European Union.

The problem, in my opinion, is one that the good Professor does not want to acknowledge as he cleaves to the US foreign policy establishment's views: weakness is inherent in the European Union because of the way it is structured and because its basic lack of real purpose in the real world. That would never be acknowledged by somebody who thinks it was the American foreign policy's greatest achievement.

Professor Mead's list of specific problems that face the EU was interesting though not every item was exactly new to some of us.

The biggest of all problems has been the shift to information economy, which, together with globalization, put great pressure on wage rates and employment. This has continued through the last few decades and has been affecting ever more parts of employment. Is this actually a problem or an opportunity? That depends on how you identify yourself.

European self-identity, particularly since the Second World War (though that event was not mentioned by Professor Mead) has been what might be termed the blue social model: a stable society, a fair amount of government control of the economy and the existence of national champions, all of which may have looked particularly inviting in the late forties and fifties but has long turned stability into stagnation. (Then again, that is precisely the model that UKIP is promoting in its policies, if one can use that word.)

This model or assumption did not allow and still does not allow for the changes that flow out of technological and informational upheavals; instead people's certainties have been destroyed and the institutions that were supposed to provide them have lost their legitimacy. Well, well, so the European project was predicated on an assumption that did not take into account inevitable changes? How many blogs did I write on that subject? How many articles in such publications as the European Journal? I have long lost count.

The second problem is the demographic transition that will require some rethinking on the subject of the welfare state and care for the old. As a matter of fact, what this does require is some rethinking, particularly in Britain about the employability of older people. While people live longer, are healthier and keep their marbles longer (assuming they had them in the first place and I do not mean the Elgin ones) employers, NGOs that call themselves charities and unions continue to exist in a world of about sixty years ago when anyone who lived for three score years, never mind the extra ten, was to be treated as one who could no longer do anything but doze in the sun.

The third problem is the poor functioning and perceived illegitimacy of the European institutions. They are far too bureaucratic, function poorly and are not well regarded by an ever growing section of Europe's population. (I need not say that this came as a complete shock and surprise to me.) At a time, added Professor Mead when no European country can cope on its own (as when could they?) it is not helpful to have European institutions that actually make that coping far more difficult.

The obvious answer is to start thinking how European countries could create links and alliances with some institutions that would strengthen them and not destroy their economy but this is not an idea that comes easily to someone who really does think that the European project was going to be one that lived by liberal ideas of law, justice and liberty. (I kid you not. That is what some American supporters of the EU quite genuinely think they had helped to bring about. Now they are, understandably, upset.)

Problem number four was that the various shifts in political and, especially, economic structures affect different countries differently. Thus Britain, German and the Nordic countries have done reasonably well while France and the Mediterranean ones have not. These tensions would have emerged even without ....

Problem number five: the euro.

Well, all I can say is d'uh! I mean, no, nobody, absolutely nobody said any of this ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. And what did we get in response from the likes of Professor Mead: oh don't worry, it will be fine, European integration is a grand idea, it will be the envy or the world. (NO, do NOT get me on to that subject.)

So, President Putin looked at this seriously dysfunctional structure with political institutions that are not considered to be legitimate and huge economic tensions and thought "hey, I could be President of that easily". No, sorry, he thought, "hey, I can invade anything I like and they will do nothing". And so he did. Well, up to a point. He invaded Crimea and semi-invaded Luhansk and Donetsk. The West did nothing and the EU, in particular, cannot decide what it should do and how to go about doing anything.

Could this have been avoided? Well, possibly, but that would have required an understanding of President Putin's mentality and of Russia's essential weakness. On the other hand, I do not agree with Professor Mead that Putin has inflicted one propaganda defeat on the Europeans and the Americans after another. In what way has he won the propaganda war? In that, apparently, he has continuing support in Russia, no matter what he does? That was to be expected. In that some people, so engrossed in their own little problems that they cannot understand what has been going on in Russia and see Mr Putin as the leader of the anti-Western world thus to be supported? Slightly more surprising but, again, not a huge achievement. But Russia is not exactly a popular country and all suggestions of her allying herself with China and Iran, creating a huge bloc of anti-Western powers fall down, as Professor Mead said, on the fact that China is not particularly interested. An alliance with Iran and what remains of Assad's Syria has considerably less cachet.

Here we should have come to the point of what is to be done with the fact that history has returned and we cannot get away from it. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my first blog, there was no real answer. Apparently, it would be a good idea if the US and the UK would stop criticizing everything those nasty Europeans do and engage in some sort of dialogue to sort things out.

Well, to start with, we are in different positions. When the US throws up its collective hands up in horror, they do so as outsiders who feel that the wonderful structure they helped to create did not turn out all that well and they are going to have to come back to sort everyone out. When the UK .... ahem ... throws up its collective hands up in horror it is with the knowledge that we are part of this whole shambolic structure, that we have wilfully abandoned the idea of our own foreign policy in order to help create a common one, that we are among the most obedient member states.

The problem from the point of view of Professor Mead and the foreign policy establishment in the US is that for some bizarre reason of their own they saw "Europe" or the European project as something they could point to as an example to all and sundry. That makes me wonder whether they actually understand the concept of history at all. It is the history of Europe that makes the European Union an impossible proposition unless, as its founders knew full well, it is imposed rapidly and ruthlessly on the populations; but it is also the history of such areas as the Middle East or South-East Asia or Africa that makes any imitation of what Europe does unlikely. That, dear readers, is what the return of history really means.

Meanwhile, what is to be done (to quote that terrible novel and equally terrible political tract)? Well, it seems that the Yanks will have to come back.

And we won't come back till it's over, over there. 

The view from over here - 1

The lunchtime meeting today had been organized by the Henry Jackson Society, the Left's particular bugbear, in the House of Commons (luckily in one of the committee rooms where the acoustics were good and the mikes worked). The guest was the eminent academic and commentator, Professor Walter Russell Mead and his topic was an obvious riff on a once highly influential book by Professor Francis Fukuyama: The Crisis in Europe: the Return of History and what to do about it.

As one would expect, Professor Mead gave a very cogent and exhilarating analysis of the many problems the world is facing today but, as a journalist from Die Welt pointed out, we have all heard a great many depressing talks and read a great many even more depressing articles of that kind recently. What did Professor Mead think were some of the answers?

Professor Mead's main solution was (and, to be fair, we were coming to the end of the session but, to be equally fair, that was supposed to be part of the presentation) that the US should restore its interest in Europe and re-engage in a dialogue with its European partners. Or, in other words, as he said the Lone Ranger, having ridden away, should now return (no word of how Tonto might feel about  that).

The European Union, Professor Mead explained, was American foreign policy's greatest accomplishment; it had been one of the aims of the Marshall Plan (some stretching of history here), had been supported diplomatically and politically throughout its history but has, to some extent been left to its own devices in the last few years. The US underestimated the difficulties European weakness and lack of cohesion will cause to it. Having, as it thought, defeated the bad guys (twice, presumably), knocked all the European heads together, the US announced that it will do what the European had always said they wanted and that is leave them all alone. Apparently, that is not what the Europeans wanted deep down and it is time to recognize this fact.

We'll be over, we're coming over
And we won't come back till it's over, over there.

Well, that's fine, except that it would appear that it is never going to be over, over here. We saw that when Yugoslavia disintegrated into a series of wars in the nineties, the EU though the egregious Jacques Poos announced that "this was Europe's hour" only to plead with the Americans to come back and sort the mess out after all. It seems that they will have to come back again in the sense of taking greater interest in this pesky little continent and its pesky problems.

Is that really the answer? Obviously, as an Atlanticist and an Anglospherist I want to see a continuation of the existing links between certain European countries and the United States, adding Canada, Australia and New Zealand into that network. But would a greater involvement by the US in the EU's problems really help anyone? Somehow, I doubt it.

Let us go back to the beginning of Professor Mead's talk. We are, he said, facing the greatest geopolitical crisis since the 1960s with President Putin's Russia displaying the most obvious signs of naked aggression since the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. (Whatever happened to Afghanistan in 1979 and, more recently, Georgia?)

Facing this growing aggressiveness we have a West that is in some disarray, both politically and economically; in fact, in most disarray since the 1930s.

I have a problem with these shock-horror announcements because they seem to be so wobbly in their evidence. Are we facing the greatest crisis since the thirties or the sixties? Is this the biggest geopolitical upheaval since 1918, 1945, 1989 or last year?

Not long ago Legatum Institute tweeted a link to a discussion by various global thinkers, put together by Foreign Policy whose premiss was that "the world as we know it fell apart in 2014". This was said on a number of occasions at the Institute's events by no less a person as Anne Applebaum Director of Transitions Forum and author, among other books, of an excellent history of Eastern Europe in the immediate post-war period. She has also written about the Gulag. It seems to me that compared to what she described in those books makes the events of 2014 rather small potatoes.

As the presentation went on, Professor Mead narrowed down the time scale and focused on three countries that are unhappy with the world order that was established in 1989 - 91, that is after the fall of the Soviet Union, and are ready to challenge it. So we are really talking about a possible world order that is twenty-five years old. Could it be that there was no world order established in those years but that events were the beginning of the break-up of the post-Second World War order and that break-up is still going on? That is one explanation of events.

The three countries that are challenging the world order, according to Professor Mead, are China, Iran and Russia. Of these China is the most powerful and capable with the greatest long-term potential. It is, however, already interdependent with the existing world order and benefits from it greatly; therefore, its challenge is unlikely to be a particularly destructive one. There are issues on which it feels aggrieved but, on the whole, it has had less effect on the surrounding area than the other two countries.

When challenged on this subject during the discussion by a somewhat long-winded China expert, Professor Mead, defended himself robustly. China, he reiterated, has not made any real changes in the geopolitical structures close to her, partly because she faces stronger countries than Iran and Russia and partly because its leadership miscalculated in  2008 - 9: the US had not been weakened quite as much as they thought and the sudden aggressive reaction alarmed various countries like Japan who now have a far more active foreign and defence policy.

To the point that China was now the second largest economy (that keeps changing and it is never clear to me how these things are defined) Professor Mead replied that the connection between GDP and world influence is not all that straightforward, pointing to the fact that in the mid-nineteenth century France's GDP was greater than Britain's but that did not lead to French domination of the world.

Moving on to Iran, the picture is a little odd. That country has the least long-term potential of the three yet it is the one that has made the greatest changes, in its favour, in the area that immediately surrounds it. When one looks at the situation in Iraq and Syria one cannot argue with that. Turkey, Iran's rival for influence in the Middle East, has retreated. But Hezbollah is, as far as one can tell, not as strong or powerful as it used to be. For all of that, Iran has done well and that is without going into the convoluted negotiations it has been conducting for decades about its nuclear power.

To a great extent the reason is the basic weakness and unsustainable structure of its immediate neighbours (Israel being the one exception but they are satisfied with keeping a watching brief for the time being), made worse by the events of the so-called Arab Spring.

Does this affect the rest of the world? Well, not so that you'd notice at present though that may change if Iran really does develop a nuclear bomb.

That brings us to Russia, which is, according to Professor Mead betwixt and between those two. It ought to be very powerful, in possession of a nuclear arsenal (whose efficacy is not altogether clear) and in possession of a vast reserve of oil and gas. But unlike China, Russia has not been able to use these advantages to strengthen its economic base even if we ignore the various rumours and news items that indicate a greater weakness in the former than has been assumed.

Russia is alienated from the existing world order in a more fundamental way than China and that is despite the enormous efforts made after the collapse of the Soviet Union to integrate the country into that world order: G7 turned into G8, membership of G20, various agreements with NATO, membership of WTO and so on. For reasons that were obviously beyond the scope of the talk Russia has not managed to take advantage of any of it and has returned to her historic distrust of the West.

When one adds to that the obvious fact that most of the countries that border on Russia have weak governments, chaotic economic policies and, for the most party, dysfunctional structures, one can see that Russia is in a better position than China to make geopolitical changes as well as being more willing to do so.

Of course, one needs to add a few points. Russian interference in those countries has contributed to those weaknesses as well as to Russia's own stagnation. Furthermore, not all countries fall to her machinations. The Baltic States are managing reasonably well for the time being and even Georgia has recovered from the last war sufficiently well to look to the West again.

[This is becoming rather a long blog. So, I shall stop here and write up Professor Mead's comments about the European Union in a separate posting.]

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A little confusing

One gets rather confused with some of the replies HMG produces to questions put down by noble Lords in the Upper House. Take this example: Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked the following Written Question:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord Taylor of Holbeach on 4 August (HL1114) [actually, September 26] about the European Arrest Warrant, whether they consider that habeas corpus can be applied in other European jurisdictions following extradition; and, if so, how.
The last few words seem to be crucial.

HMG, in the shape of Lord Bates replied as follows (and I doubt if Lord Bates fully understood what his officials wrote there):
Article 12 of the relevant Framework Decision (“Keeping the person in detention”) states that “When a person is arrested on the basis of a European Arrest Warrant, the executing judicial authority shall take a decision on whether the requested person should remain in detention”. This obliges the relevant judicial authority to take a decision on whether or not the person should remain in detention, and that must be taken in accordance with the law of the executing State. Therefore, each and every EU Member State must consider carefully whether a person can be legally detained or not. That is in keeping with the intention underpinning the principle of habeas corpus.

The Government has also introduced reforms to the operation of the Arrest Warrant that limit the unjustified detention abroad of individuals surrendered by the United Kingdom. For example, section 12A of the Extradition Act 2003 provides a bar to extradition on the grounds of “absence of prosecution decision”. This means that, in cases where the person is wanted to stand trial, extradition can only go ahead where the issuing State has made a decision to charge the person and a decision to try the person, or that the person’s absence from that State is the only reason for the failure to take the decision(s). This provision ensures that, where a State is simply not ready to try a person, extradition is refused and the person is not surrendered only to spend a potentially lengthy period in pre-trial detention.

Following our reforms, Section 21B of the same Act allows, with both the requested person’s and the issuing State’s consent, for the person’s temporary transfer to the issuing State or for the person to speak with the authorities in that State whilst he or she remains in the UK (for example, by video link). This provision ensures those who are subject to an Arrest Warrant have an opportunity to communicate with the issuing State without being surrendered. In a number of cases this may result in the issuing State withdrawing the Arrest Warrant (e.g. if it decides the person is not the person they are looking for), ensuring the minimum time possible will be spent in detention.
I think he is saying that Habeas Corpus remains important despite the European Arrest Warrant but I am not really sure.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month

There is nothing one can say that would be different from all the many things that have been said in the last few days and at other times. Like so many other people I feel a lump in my throat when I read this and think not only of those who died in that or other wars of the bloody twentieth century but those who died, young and old, men and women, adult and children in the war that the states and ideologies waged on their people. Two days after the fall of the Berlin Wall, we must remember them, too.

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

Saturday, November 8, 2014

And the Wall came tumbling down

It was hard to decide which videos of those momentous hours and days to put up but I decided on the following.

One that gives a brief account of the run-up to the day itself, mentioning that the process that led to the end of that Wall and everything it entailed was started early that summer when the still Communist Hungarian government decided to let the thousands of East Germans who were massing on its border with Austria, in effect opening the borders between East and West. I may be biased but I have always thought that Hungary (it was a very popular decision) has never been given adequate credit for that act.

Here is another version.

As befits the BBC the report was given a rather sour post-script but it is true that on that day, twenty-five years ago and in the days to come there was nothing but rejoicing even among people who could foresee many problems.

The Second World War was finally over, the division that scarred Europe was going to be healed and many of us who had grown up, if not in the geographic then in the mental shadow of that Wall, were stunned to see and hear it going down.

One thing is of interest in that report by Brian Hanrahan: he mentions people power. Indeed, it was, just that. The Wall, the borders, Communism itself were all brought down by the people, for once more or less united. That has been the great tragedy of the Left, that is what they have found unforgiveable: that the only successful act of people power was to bring down the system they all thought was not really all that bad at all and was hated only by the rabid right. Turns out it was hated by everyone.

And now, my fellow eurosceptics, let us do a little bit of maths. The Federal Republic of Germany, popularly known as West Germany, became a constitutional democracy in May 1949, that is sixty-five years ago. That democracy was strong enough to take in twenty-five years ago aa section of Germany that had been a Communist country for forty years. Since then united Germany has had many problems (haven't we all?), both economic and political but it has remained a democracy and there seems not possibility of it being anything else. As against that, the Nazi regime lasted for twelve years. That's twelve years against sixty-five and twenty-five. Could we now stop talking about Germany as being always and for ever potentially Nazi?

Let us face it: the European Union will be brought down by Germany not by Britain and certainly not by Greece. But it will have to be a strong, self-confident Germany as the EU exists primarily on German guilt. Any eurosceptic who thinks we should pile on the guilt is playing the europhiliacs' game. But then you knew that.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Still waiting for the Great Pumpkin EU reform

Lord Dykes is indefatigable in his work of producing planted questions about the European Union. Well, if not planted then very useful to the government, any government. (Here is one example.)

He really excelled himself this time:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress is being made in European Council discussions on reform of the European Union treaties.
The answer is, as we can surmise, none whatsoever but it would not do for the Noble Minister to tell the truth in that stark fashion. Instead, Baroness Anelay of St Johns said:
My Lords, the UK regularly discusses EU reform with counterparts both in the European Council and bilaterally. We have already made progress. The June European Council conclusions clearly set out a strong commitment to reforming the EU and it needs to address the UK’s concerns. We will continue to work with our European partners to achieve these reforms, many of which can be made right now.
Well, all right. Let us not use nasty expressions like "none whatsoever". How about "not very much at all"? Would that do?

Lord Dykes had not finished. His follow-up question was a masterpiece of superciliousness (I doubt if he understands anything about the EU) and complete irrelevance.
I thank my noble friend for that Answer. In the mean time, can I tempt her to endorse the very wise advice of our new British Commissioner, Jonathan Hill, that everybody should calm down and avoid hysteria about the rather technical nature of the budget dues dispute, because our membership of the EU is surely the essential requirement and target, and is much more important than appeasing UKIP and other Europhobes?
HMG in the person of Baroness Anelay simply ignored his question or comment and answered something completely different though not very adequately:
My Lords, the policy of this Government is to argue for the interests of this country. My noble friend is right to point to the very detailed nature of the investigation that must now take place of the demand, out of the blue, for an extra £1.7 billion. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made clear that Her Majesty’s Treasury will now assess the data in exhaustive detail to check how the statistics were arrived at and the methodology that was used. After all, it is British taxpayers’ money and therefore it needs to be examined in detail and discussed properly by Finance Ministers. That will happen tomorrow.
Then came a great deal of waffle that sort of criticized the status quo but managed to imply that the best way of changing it is by keeping it in place as much as possible.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch managed to upset the apple cart for a short time:
My Lords, assuming that the Government have at last seen through the propaganda that the EU has brought peace and prosperity and is useful for trade, geopolitics and so on, why cannot they also see that the EU is wholly unreformable and that the only sensible thing to do is to get out of it and help to close it down? What is the point of the European Union?
Let it be noted that this is what the noble lord has been saying for many years but it is not, as far as any of us can tell, UKIP's policy, which is merely a demand for a referendum as soon as possible.

Baroness Anelay's reply, as expected, was not particularly informative:
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord still fails to see the benefits that we have achieved by our membership of the EU, but also the achievements that we need to have through reform to make sure that we can continue to be a successful member. That is where we want to be. We want to see the EU reformed with us as a strong member of it, and other countries recognise that it needs reform. As to leaving it—not now.
Still, one must take one's entertainment wherever one can. Baroness Ludford is no longer a highly paid member of the Toy Parliament and will now have to make do with the considerably reduced amount of money she can get in the House of Lords.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

It seems that Luxembourg IS a tax haven but who cares?

Well, the self-righteous EU, the equally self-righteous media (whose employees make sure that they avoid as much tax as possible) and, as of now, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, whose main political achievement has been the premiership of that little, highly successful state.
Governments in Europe and all over the world have missed out on billions of euros of potential tax income because companies channeled their profits through Luxembourg, an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and media across 32 countries has found.

A total of 343 companies, including Swedish furniture maker Ikea, German financial institution Deutsche Bank, and American technology company Apple have put in place complex financial structures to pay as little tax as possible.

These schemes were approved by the tax office of Luxembourg at a time when Jean-Claude Juncker was the duchy's PM.

On Wednesday (5 November), the investigative journalists published 548 leaked Luxembourg tax rulings from 2002 to 2010.
Goodness me, how sad. Governments not getting the money they and their employees think they are fully entitled to. It seems that Mr Juncker has always defended his country's banking laws in the past. Astonishingly, I have to admit that I agree with the Commission President or something. Unless, of course, he decides to do a volte face on it.

Well what do you know?

The Court of Auditors, the EU's own institution, has refused to pass those accounts for the twentieth year running.
The European Union’s auditors have estimated that one in 20 payments made from the EU’s 2013 budget was affected by error. The auditors put the overall error rate for payments at 4.7%, marginally down on the 2012 budget when its estimate was 4.8%.
More  details on the EUObserver:
Almost €7 billion of the EU budget was illegally spent in 2013, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) revealed on Wednesday (5 November), as it declined to sign off EU spending for the 20th consecutive year.

Although the error rate of misspent funds fell fractionally to 4.7 per cent from 4.8 per cent in 2012, this is still well above the 2 per cent threshold under which ECA could classify payments as error-free. Spending on administration was the only part of the budget to fall within the threshold, with an estimated 1 per cent error rate.

In total, EU spending in 2013 reached €148.5 billion.
Is this going to make the slightest difference to the people who have mis-spent our money consistently? Or to the ever higher sums that are demanded from the long-suffering taxpayer? Not on your life.

Some costing of the Toy Parliament

So, would you like to know a little bit about the amount of money that is spent on the Toy Parliament? Just a little bit? Well, here we are.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked a Written Question:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the amount of subsidy paid to each of the European Parliament’s political groups annually.
That is, as readers of this blog must realize, just a part of what goes on that institution. However, the answer is interesting:
The annual accounts for all groups are available on the European Parliament (EP) website. The last year for which figures are available is 2013:

European People’s Party: €21,680,180 [£16,911,933.63]

Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats: €15,387,789.85 [£12,003,159.53]

Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE): €6,718,994.35 [£5,243,548.25]

Greens/EFA: €4,365,639.83 [£3,407,078.2]

GUE/NGL: €2,657,578.33 [£2,074,055.0]

European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR): €4,046,038.85 [£3,157,036.06]

Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD): €2,614,225.43 [£2,039,484.50]

Non -Attached: €1,315,501 [£1,026,286.36]
There is also a helpful link to the accounts.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Sticks and stones ...

Remember the old saying: Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me? How very old-fashioned and outdated of you. Of course, words can hurt you and hurt you so badly that they must be made illegal. That is the way our social and political attitudes are going.

An excellent article by John O'Sullivan of a few days ago outlines the process whereby free speech itself has become an endangered phenomenon in countries that used to pride themselves on it.

Of course, there is a certain amount of exaggeration in descriptions of freedom in the past. Our own libel laws (which Mr O'Sullivan mentions) have made a mockery of the very concept for some decades. Past pressure from politicians on newspaper editors meant that a good many stories were not published though one could argue that some of those stories concerned private rather than public matters. Only some, though. The infamous story [scroll down for mention] of some Labour politicians getting drunk during a foreign trip, uncovered by a journalist whose career was then destroyed because said MPs thought nothing of suing for libel and lying on oath did concern public matters. Thereafter journalists became very cautious, indeed, about their stories.

Setting that and many other examples aside, we have to admit that the notion of people being so hurt by words whether in print, on the media or on the internet that those words must not be allowed to be said is a situation that none of us can be happy with. Or can we?

After all, people who shout loudly off about "political correctness" will also demand that the burning of poppies be banned as if that were the equivalent of a genuine attack on a poppy seller. It isn't. It is nasty and unpleasant but once we start banning nasty and unpleasant we are moving towards censorship and authoritarianism.

Back in the seventeenth century John Milton had the answer to it; back in the nineteenth century John Stuart Mill had the answer to it. Unless the question is of violence or any direct harm to the individual or the state (the only religious denomination Milton refused to allow was the Roman Catholic because they were conspiring against the state) then, unpleasant though those words and actions are, we have to allow them. For who decides what is unpleasant and even nasty? The police? Some organization set up for the purpose? Public opinion on a particular day?

Meanwhile, John O'Sullivan's article is well worth reading.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A counter blast to people's will and blind faith in "the people"

I was reading a review of Shami Chakrabarti's recent book, which, apparently equates freedom and rightness with whatever she seems to think is right, including advice to the Leveson inquiry that there should be some control over the media (or some of it, anyway, though certainly not the Grauniad).

The reviewer then quoted the author of the original On Liberty, John Stuart Mill:
Protection against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough; there needs to be protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development… of any individuality not in harmony with its ways.
Or, in other words, just because the demos wants something at any given time it is not a sign of democracy to make that opinion law.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

More recent history

The latest volume in the excellent Yale University Press series Annals of Communism is Secret Cables of the Comintern 1933-1943. Those cables were sent to and from the Moscow Centre of the Communist International (Comintern), its Secretariat (ECCI) and the Communications Service (CS).

The Comintern filled a rather odd position in the history of the period. On the one hand, it was an open organization (whose members and staff had a distressingly high turn-over in the mid and late thirties) that united all the Communist parties of the world and, allegedly, treated them as equals. On the other hand, it conducted secret correspondence with, sent money to and issued instructions that could not be disobeyed to specific members of those Communist Parties who, then, had to pass them on and ensure that all Communists acted according to those instructions that invariably mirrored Soviet policy of the day. Most rank and file members of the various national CPs and even a good many of the officers knew nothing about that activity and where some of the instructions came from or how they were transmitted. Nor did they know much about the large funds transferred to some people for certain purposes.

The secret cables that have become available to Western historians are only a part of those that exist and the possibility of seeing the others seem remote. But even what we have clarifies a great deal of what happened in the twenties and thirties, explains the behaviour of Communist politicians and parties and gives us a better idea of what happened.

A good many things have to be explained at the beginning of the book, not least the fact that many of the codes were extraordinarily silly and crass as well as inappropriate to the countries where they were sent as party members tried to point out to the Moscow centre. Their inappropriateness was likely to excite police attention, which, in turn, would, if made public, make it clear that the parties were nothing but Moscow's puppets.

Another problem was the fact that the national recipients seemed to have no understanding of secrecy or conspiratorial technique, refusing or forgetting to destroy telegrams after reading them, carrying messages openly in their pockets and so on.
The Comintern had good reason to worry about the security of its communications. The most serious compromise of its messages, however, did not stem from sloppy tradecraft or carelessness on the part of its employees. Instead, it was a function of underestimating just how vulnerable its radio contacts with its sections were to interception.

The British Government Code and Cipher School (GC&CS, today known as GCHQ) - responsible for collecting and trying to break ciphered communications - started intercepting a rash of messages in 1930 that was quickly determined to be between Comintern headquarters in Moscow and clandestine radio stations abroad. Several months were required to trace the British end of the operation to a house in Wimbledon owned by a British Communist, who was promptly put under surveillance in order to learn of the path through which Comintern money and instructions were passed along to the leadership of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB).

GC&CS had managed to largely break the codes by 1933, enabling it to pass on to MI5, responsible for counter-intelligence, the identities of secret members of the British CP, the identities of couriers coming from and going to Moscow, the names of British and colonial Communists studying at the Lenin School in the USSR, and details about Soviet subsidies to the CPGB. The "obscurely phrased" traffic hindered full understanding of the messages - even the British Communists often did not fully understand what was communicated and had to ask for clarification.

The British decryption project, code-named Mask, collected so many messages that many were not given detailed analysis. By 1937, with messages indicating that the Comintern was seeking to moderate British Communists' revolutionary fervour as part of the Popular Front and facing a severe shortage of staff, MI5 discontinued Mask, thereby missing some obscure clues that, if followed up, would have exposed elements of the Comintern's operations linked to Soviet intelligence.
One such clue would have led them to Melita Norwood. Still, the information collected was of enormous use to Britain and, after the Second World War, to the United States.

The Comintern agents were often secret service agents as well but not always. They faced danger in their work but not always from the obvious source.
But most Comintern operative lived far more prosaic and dull lives than their intelligence counterparts did. This is not to say that they did not face dangers. Comintern operatives could and did face arrest, imprisonment, torture, and even death. Particularly for those tasked to assist local Communist parties involved in armed revolts or uprisings or assigned to countries with few or no legal protections for someone charged with political subversion, a Comintern assignment could be fatal.

Most Comintern emissaries, however, were paymasters and conduits for passing along instructions and requests, enabling Communist parties to carry out their activities in accordance with plans developed with the approval of the Soviet Union. They were the yes and ears of Moscow on the ground in New York, Paris, London, Prague and numerous other locales, a constant reminder to American, French, British, or Czech Communists that not only were their political struggles part of an international campaign, but they were also being watched and judged by people beholden to a bureaucracy in Moscow and totally unaccountable and unknown to the vast majority of the local party's members.

And for many Comintern workers the most dangerous part of their assignment was that they were very likely to run afoul not of capitalist police or executioners, but the NKVD, the sword and shield of the Soviet state. Far more Comintern employees died in the cellars of the Lubyanka Prison than abroad.
History is full of little ironies.

Show time again

Sorry about this, folks, but today is St Crispin's Day and the anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. So, no escaping this clip:

Friday, October 24, 2014

Show time

Dean Martin, John Wayne and A. N. Other

Thursday, October 23, 2014

And now for something completely different

Not UKIP this time. To be honest, I am bored with the subject and with the people who spring to that party's defence or so they think.

Instead, here are links to a couple of websites that some of my readers might find interesting. I shall put the links up on the sidebar as well.

First off, is a fascinating site, called SikhPolice, a combination of Sikh philosophy, ideas about Sikh policing and some information about what is misleadingly called "Honour Based Violence". I can thoroughtly recommend it.

The other site is one about which I intend to write more at some future date. Sharia Watch is an invaluable site for anyone who is interested in the related subjects of radicalization and the creeping sharia through arbitration tribunals that have become courts administering family and criminal law. Its editors pride themselves on not publishing anything that cannot be backed by clear and acceptable evidence. There are no simple rumours here.

I cannot really say, enjoy reading these websites but I can say that they are of interest to anyone who is interested in questions of freedom.

Fun and games with UKIP

[Health warning: yes, this is another posting about UKIP but it is not entirely critical of that benighted organization or, at least, it is hightly critical of those who have attacked it recently. UKIP-bots take note.]

UKIP have managed to get themselves into the news again on two accounts, neither of which has anything to do with their policies (and that might be just as well). Both stories have caused a great deal of indignation and a certain amount of amusements. I plead guilty to the second attitude.

The first story, as British readers of this blog probably know, is about that ridiculous calypso that was written by former BBC DJ Mike Read (no, I've never heard of him before this either) and performed with a mock-Caribbean accents at some fringe event, went on YouTube and was attacked as being racist. At first, Read said that he considered the accusations preposterous and the Dear Leader called on the faithful to get the calypso to No 1 in the pop charts.

After that things became a little difficult. For one thing the words of the song were published and turned out to be astonishingly stupid. For another, people who are not completely obsessed with UKIP either pro or con (I expect I shall be accused of being one of those by some UKIP-bots but I do not think the amount of time I have spent on them over the years of writing this blog or being co-editor of EURef warrants that accusation), wondered why they should have picked on the calypso as a particularly cool, up-to-date and funky kind of music.

As it happens, I have a much loved LP (or vinyl as they are called now, having become rather fashionable again) of Harry Belafonte singing calypsos in a mock Caribbean accent, Belafonte's own accent being pure American. So far as I know there were no problems with that but I don't know for sure. The LP (vinyl) was inherited by me from my father who acquired it in the 1950s, possibly on one of his two trips to London from Budapest where we lived at the time. Does that throw any light on the strange UKIP decision? Well, yes, I think it does. This is all part and parcel of their nostalgia for that rather unpleasant decade.

The faux-outrage over the racism of the song has achieved its aim and former DJ Mike Read "has apologised for his Ukip-supporting calypso song and asked for it to be withdrawn from sale following criticism that it was racist". Stupid the idea may have been but the idea that somebody must always apologize and something must always be suppressed if anybody is offended and, particularly, if the word racist can be bandied round, is turning British politics into a specie of blancmange.

The story is not over.
Read’s song just failed to make the top 20 in the midweek rundown of the official singles chart, debuting at number 21 according to the list published on Wednesday. A spokesman said sales of the song to date would continue to contribute to the official top 40, despite Read’s decision to withdraw it.

It could mean another dilemma for the BBC over whether to include the song in its official top 40 programme on Radio 1 on Sunday, in a potential echo of the row over the anti-Thatcher protest song, Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead.
That, of course, was not withdrawn from sale as it was not racist and offended only in the matter of good taste. But it did not get to No 1 either.

Here, by the way, is UKIP's Culture Spokesman, Peter Whittle, attacking the attackers. It is not clear whether he actually liked the song but his political point is a very reasonable one. [Full disclosure: Peter is a good friend.] I would say that the faux outrage has not exactly harmed UKIP while an understanding of the silliness would have done. As it is, they can proclaim that they are victims of the modern mania for censorship of anything that can be described as racist.

Let us now turn to the other story, that of their new ally in the European Parliament. The Toy Parliament does not run on the basis of parties but groups and there are rules about how many parties and countries have to be represented in each group in order to be able to claim the handsome hand-outs for the MEPs' entertainment hard work. For a while it looked like Nigel Farage had managed to put his Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD)group together (no, I don't know what that title means either but they had to think of something and the others are not much better). Then potential disaster struck: the Latvian MEP Iveta Grigule (more here) decided to leave the group, thus making it untenable in Toy Parliament terms.

As ever, we heard accusations and counter-accusations. Nigel Farage "has accused the president of the European parliament, Martin Schulz, of "effectively blackmailing" Grigule by offering her the leadership of an overseas delegation in a deliberate attempt to silence Ukip and the eurosceptic EFDD".

Ms Grigule retaliated by saying that if she had been susceptible to "blackmail" she would have taken Mr Farage up on his offer of the group's Vice-Presidency and, anyway, she had already managed to fall out with the Dear Leader over his working methods that she characterized as being rude. Nor was she impressed by the rest of the UKIP MEPs.
"In July this year I already suggested to Nigel Farage that he should change his working style. The fact that he did not take my suggestion into account this whole time is not right," she said.

"I do not find it acceptable that MEP’s turn their backs on the European anthem or the flags of member states. I do not find shouting or rude remarks acceptable during plenary sessions, or that the majority of colleagues from Great Britain do not take part in the work of committees. I warned Farage, that if nothing changes in this attitude, I will leave the group.

"Of course, this style of working may be beneficial to Farage as his popularity in Britain grows, but to other group delegations this isolationism from the other Parliamentary groups disrupts the ability to work. This was a road leading to nowhere."
The only thing I can add to that story is that it would seem that neither Mr Farage nor Ms Grigule know the difference in meaning between blackmail and bribery.

As it happens, there are always odd MEPs hanging around the Toy Parliament who can be bribed or blackmailed, depending on your use of the English language, to join a group and the Dear Leader found one: he is the Polish MEP Robert Iwaszkiewicz (more here) of the Congress of the New Right and a man who has distinguished himself by being a Holocaust denier and a supporter of domestic violence. Not a particularly prepossessing chap and neither is his party.
Korwin-Mikke [the party's leader], whose party has two remaining MEPs and received 7.5% support in Poland during May’s European parliamentary elections, is one of the most outspoken figures within the far-right groupings of parliament.

In July, he declared in English that the minimum wage should be “destroyed” and said that “four million niggers” lost their jobs in the US as a result of President John F Kennedy signing a bill on the minimum wage in 1961. He went on to claim that 20 million young Europeans were being treated as “negroes” as a result of the minimum wage. He refused to apologise and was fined 10 days of allowances for his comments.

Korwin-Mikke has also called for the vote to be taken away from women, has claimed that the difference between rape and consensual sex is “very subtle” and said that Adolf Hitler was “probably not aware that Jews were being exterminated”.
Of course, saying that Hitler was not aware that Jews were being exterminated, stupid though that is, does not constitute Holocaust denials but we can say with some certainty that the Polish party, its members and its leader are not people one wants to have much to do with partly because of their opinions and, even more, because of their level of intelligence.

The problem is that as long as we are in the EU and send members to the Toy Parliament (on a very low vote, it is true) we have to deal with people like Mr Iwaszkiewicz and Mr Korwin-Mikke, as well as people who either deny the extent of Communist crimes or consider the gulags to have been quite a good idea. We do not elect these people but others do.

The outrage over a perfectly ordinary if slightly shoddy political transaction has been deafening. I have even seen demands that UKIP should be banned in Britain. A party that has received a fair number of votes should be banned, I asked. That is your democratic suggestion? I got a lot of huffing and puffing in return and reminders that the British Union of Fascists was banned and Sinn Fein was kept off the airwaves for some years. The BUF was banned durign the war, I replied, as they were seen with some (though not total) justification as aiding and abetting the enemy. Incidentally, I added, the CPGB that was doing the same between the autumn of 1939 and June 22, 1941, actively inciting members of the armed forces to desert, was not banned. And Sinn Fein was not actually banned, merely not allowed to speak on air because they were and are closely linked to a terrorist organization, the IRA. UKIP has merely done something many of us find distasteful. It is not illegal and it cannot be described as aiding and abetting the enemy. Should all those British parties who sit in groups with well known members of Communist parties be banned? There was more huffing and puffing and, in one case, a highly ironic denial that anybody denies the gulags. There was no reference to the victims of collectivization.

But I digress.

Will the second story help UKIP? Not as much as the first one, as Mr Iwaszkiewicz, the latest addition to the EFDD group is rather unsavoury and a good many UKIPers, not to mention their supporters and quasi-supporters are embarrassed by the story. Does it matter electorally? Probably not. I have no doubt the story will be rehashed during the electoral campaign next year but there are plenty of embarrassments to be brought up against all parties in the Toy Parliament. The truth is that the overwhelming majority in this country does not care about that institution.

A far more serious story is the one produced by the Evening Standard yesterday:
Britons have turned against the idea of quitting the European Union despite the rise of Ukip, exclusive new polling reveals today.

It found that a clear majority would vote to stay in the EU in a referendum — marking a dramatic turnaround from two years ago. The findings suggest Ukip’s surge this year has less to do with anti-EU sentiment and more to do with anxieties about immigration or disenchantment with the bigger parties.

Fifty-six per cent of people said they would vote to stay in if there were a re-ferendum now, while just 36 per cent would vote to leave, according to the Ipsos MORI poll. Excluding “don’t knows”, that amounts to a clear divide of 61 to 39 per cent.

In November 2012, the same question found that 44 per cent wanted to stay and 48 wanted to get out. At the time, support for Nigel Farage’s party stood at a mere three per cent, compared with the current level of 16 per cent — a record figure for an Ipsos MORI poll. But while support for Ukip has risen by 13 percentage points over the two-year period, support for quitting the EU has dropped by 12 points.

Backing for EU membership is at its highest since 1991 — before the Maastricht Treaty which increased integration and created the European Union out of the European Community.
The turn-around is not as dramatic as all that and is probably temporary. Opinion on the subject tends to be volatile but it has never reached the sort of support for Brexit that would indicate a victory in the referendum. Whether that is despite or because of the rise of UKIP is arguable. This blog has argued for some time that the present-day UKIP is a hindrance to the cause of British exit. It has certainly not been a help.

Another conclusion that ought to be drawn but probably will not be by people obsessed with the idea of a referendum is that we are certain to lose it and should turn our attention more widely (yes, I know the Boss has been working on it) to the question of how we can win it, should it ever come about.