Saturday, May 30, 2015

Lord Pearson's first written question

Parliament is back to work or whatever it might be called in some cases and Lord Pearson of Rannoch has put down a Written Question that might be considered to be of some topical interest:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to support a contest in the United Kingdom between artists depicting the prophet Mohammed, and if so, whether they will provide security protection for such an event.
It will be interesting to see whether HMG in its reply will use the fact that they have no plans to support any contests of that kind to avoid the more important issue of security protection. It is not, after all the duty of a government to support or oppose drawing contests but it is its duty to provide security for freedom of expression.

City AM has picked up the story, illustrating it for reasons best known to itself with a slightly ridiculous picture from 2010 that includes Nigel Farage, but reminding everyone that:
The question comes just weeks after two armed men were shot dead after attacking an arts show displaying pictures of the Prophet Mohammed in Texas.

In January, 12 people were killed in an attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, with one Shariah cleric saying it was “revenge for the honour” of Mohammed after the magazine's satirical depictions of the Prophet
In other words, no matter what the Muslim Council of Britain, apparently still perceived by the media as the organization that purports to speak for Muslims in the UK, may say, the question of free expression and security are of grave importance in the West.
A spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain dismissed the question, and said: "Baron Pearson of Rannoch often makes silly propositions, and this is one of them."
Which part of the question do they consider silly?

However, if you want to read silly, have a look at this Twitter conversation between people, most of whom have no idea what the question is about and one of whom is actually saying that he WILL wring Lord Pearson's neck if the latter comes across him, the tweeter. Now, that's silly. In fact, stupid beyond belief.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

A rant about eurosceptics

Don't think I've had one of these for a long time but it is time I did. This is not about euroscepticism in general but about eurosceptic organizations. As it happens, another one of them had a conference this morning about Brexit. It was under Chatham House rule (why?) so I could not tweet about it. The rule says that I can use the material but no reference to the details of the event or the speakers. Well, I shall not refer to the details or the speakers and using the material will not be of much use since everything that was spoken has been spoken many times, mostly in the same words and often by the same people in the years I have been attending such meetings and conferences. (For understandable reasons I do not do as much of it as I used to. There is only so often one can listen to the same words, knowing that they lead to precious little.)

Suffice it to say that as seems to have become the norm for these meetings, discussions and conferences, the panel was entirely male though there were six (out of about thirty) women in the audience. Since one member of the panel had rather pompously and condescendingly informed us that we needed to win the women's vote, which was not going to be easy as women preferred the status quo (though how he knew was a mystery) someone did ask how they intended to do this without, apparently, bothering to have any women speakers.

The chairman, no names no pack drill, said even more condescendingly that the questioner, as a woman, should be able to answer that question better. Upon which I suggested that perhaps we can make tea and stuff envelopes. I am not convinced the audience quite grasped the sarcasm behind the comment but I did insist on discussing the problem for at least a couple more minutes. Precisely, why are there no women speakers? Are there no women who understand the issues of Brexit and have something to say on the subject? What, none at all? Answer came there none.

Quite separately, I have been working on an article about a leading Conservative suffragist, Primrose Dame and political activist, Lady Knightley (1842 - 1913) and, therefore, reading about women, mostly on the conservative but some on the liberal side, fighting for various political and other rights. It is not exactly surprising that I should find it depressing that similar fights have to go on more than a hundred years later. Nor am I too impressed when told that there are no women speakers because these are chosen on merit and not as a result of positive discrimination. No women of merit at all? Might there be something wrong in the eurosceptic movement.

As it happens I do not think that putting a token female at the head of the whatever NO campaign we might cobble together will do. But then, I do not suppose anyone will listen to a female voice, anyway.

Incidentally, there was also an issue about eurosceptics sniping at each other and what a bad idea that was. The recent media coverage of UKIP was, according to one speaker, very unfortunate. Well, of course, what was really unfortunate was UKIP's idiotic behaviour but, it seems, that not sniping is being interpreted as never disagreeing or criticizing because up with this we must not put. It is good to know that Soviet rules of political behaviour are being imposed on us all even before we have started.

Rant over, you will be glad to know. Normal service will resume tomorrow.

First Reading of the Bill

Well, HM was not kidding when she made it clear that "early legislation will be introduced to provide for an in-out referendum on membership of the European Union before the end of 2017". The Bill had its First Reading in the Commons today and will have its Second Reading on June 9.

The text of it is available on line and will be available together with whatever notes HMG thinks desirable in print tomorrow.

The Referendum will be called some time before December 31, 2017 (but we knew that). As far as I can see, the later it is, the better for us as the chances of us winning are slender in any case and are next to zero in the next year or so.

The question on the ballot paper will be: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?” and I understand the UKIP Leader-for-Life-and-in-Perpetuity has already been making negative noises about that.
Farage, who is likely to play a leading role in the 'out' campaign, said the wording showed a pro-EU bias. "It is a simple straightforward, unambiguous question. That much is clear. However that Cameron is opting to give the pro-EU side the positive 'Yes' suggests strongly that his negotiations are so much fudge. He has already decided which way he wants the answer to be given, without a single power repatriated," he said.
Many of us sincerely hope that Mr Farage will not be playing a particularly leading role in the campaign and might even consider taking a back seat together with a few other politicians. On the whole, Mr Farage's credibility outside his cult is not particularly high and that is bound to reflect on the campaign.

As to the wording of the question, has Mr Farage forgotten the Scottish referendum, in which the NO side won decisively? However you phrase the question the pro-EU side will be defending the status quo and that is always a better position to have.

The other person who has been making stupid statements is the incoming First Minister of Scotland, one Nicola Sturgeon.
Describing the prospect of being taken out of the European Union against Scotland’s will as “democratically indefensible”, Sturgeon, who will succeed Alex Salmond as leader of the SNP next month, says that her party will table an amendment to any bill on an in/out referendum requiring that all four nations of the UK have to agree to withdrawal.
There has to be a limit to the SNP's refusal to acknowledge basic facts. The people of Scotland voted in a referendum to stay in the United Kingdom and they did so in the full knowledge that a forthcoming IN/OUT referendum on the EU will be taken on a national British level. There is no point in pretending that it was otherwise unless Ms Sturgeon wants to argue that the people of Scotland are, as a nation, uniquely stupid, something history does not bear her out on.

What will she do if in the UK referendum Scotland as a whole votes to leave the EU?

Moving along to other important issues, this is the definition of who will be entitled to vote:
Those entitled to vote in the referendum are —

(a) the persons who, on the date of the referendum, would be entitled to vote as electors at a parliamentary election in any constituency,

(b) the persons who, on that date, are disqualified by reason of being peers from voting as electors at parliamentary elections but —

(i) would be entitled to vote as electors at a local government election in any electoral area in Great Britain,

(ii) would be entitled to vote as electors at a local election in any district electoral area in Northern Ireland, or

(iii) would be entitled to vote as electors at a European Parliamentary election in any electoral region by virtue of section 3 of the Representation of the People Act 1985 (peers resident outside the United Kingdom), and

(c) Commonwealth citizens who, on the date of the referendum, would be entitled to vote in Gibraltar as electors at a European Parliamentary election in the combined electoral region in which Gibraltar is comprised.
For the time being that should reassure those people who were desperately worried that EU citizens would be able to vote as they are entitled to vote in local elections, thanks to the Maastricht Treaty, though there is no particular evidence that many or even any of them do exercise that right.

The only people who will be allowed to vote in the referendum though they are disqualified from voting in the General Election are peers of the realm and, surely, nobody is against that. However, I have no doubt that there will be an attempt to bring in amendments to include other categories who are disqualified from voting in the GE but are allowed to vote in local and European elections.

There is a good deal of discussion about funding and expenses but, so far as I can see, no definite figures are mentioned, presumably because a sum designated now might not seem to be adequate in two years' time. There will, however, be some government money (well, all right, taxpayers' money) allocated to both sides of the campaign with the Electoral Commission deciding who is in the lead and who should be awarded that sum.

Other expenses will have to be raised and punctiliously accounted for. Well, fairly punctiliously. Past experience tells us that neither individuals nor organizations that are funded by the EU in some form or another, such as our many large NGOs, will see any need to inform the public of that fact or to add their expenses to that of the YES campaign. That will be our task and it will not be an easy one.

Monday, May 25, 2015

An election and a referendum

Events just keep happening. Poland went to the voting stations for the second round of the Presidential election and duly brought in the unexpected (at least before the first round) Andrzei Duda of the Law and Order Party. He got 53% of the vote to the outgoing President Komorowski's 47%. Official results will be announced tomorrow when we shall know the turn-out as well.
This is a remarkable and decisive victory for Mr Duda. It's remarkable because he is a relative unknown and Mr Komorowski has been a popular president. It suggests that many Poles have grown weary of President Komorowski's backers, the governing centre-right Civic Platform party.

In its eight years in office the party has maintained Poland's economic growth despite the financial crisis. But it has also reneged on some of its promises and increased the retirement age, an unpopular move.

Poland is gradually catching up to Western Europe's living standards but youth unemployment is high and Poles can still earn much more in the UK or Germany. Many Poles simply do not feel the benefit of 25 years of near uninterrupted growth and Mr Duda appeals to them.

He has promised to bring the retirement age back down, but he'd need his Law and Justice party to win this autumn's parliamentary elections to be able to do that. It's been 10 years since they won an election but many think that may now happen. If it does, judging by its last spell in office in 2005-2007, Poland will become more inward looking and much less at ease with its EU partners.
Why Poles, who just like all others in the developed world live longer and are healthier for longer should want to spend an ever larger proportion of their lives on the scrap heap, living on an inadequate pension is anybody's guess but one can understand why many of them are sceptical about the much-touted economic growth when they look at the huge exodus of the economically active population to the West.

Meanwhile, there was also a referendum in Ireland but this was about same-sex marriage, which was voted through, the first time such a measure has been passed via a plebiscite. What, one wonders, would those Irish writers who have made their names describing a gloomy priest-ridden Ireland have said or, indeed, will say, since many of them are still around.

The actual subject of the plebiscite is of no interest to this blog. But one thing struck me as worthy of comment and that is the huge campaign to bring people who had left to work in other countries (not unknown in Irish history) back to vote or as the hashtag had it: #Hometovote. Many, it seems, responded and took trains and planes and cars and, for all I know, bicycles to do just that, as this ex-pat relates.

It appears that 60.5% of the population, which must include the ex-pats, turned out and 62% of them voted yes to gay marriage. That is pretty decisive. And, undoubtedly, it is very touching that the Irish diaspora who have not the slightest intention of living in Ireland ever again, cared enough to come back to vote but it does raise some questions that we shall have to be dealing with when a very different referendum rolls around. At present anyone who has lived abroad more than a certain number of years has no right to vote here but that might change as the Conservatives have been hinting that they might look at the issue again. Nor is the ex-pat British vote, even at its largest, likely to be such a large percentage of the electorate as it is in the much smaller Ireland. All the same, what about that #Hometovote? How do we feel about it?

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Should museums charge for entry?

For goodness' sake, I hear you cry, why is she bothering with that. Why is she not writing the promised second analysis of the election and its aftermath? Well, I am, dear readers but that is taking a somewhat longer time than I had hoped. I am also aware that this subject is not on the agenda at the moment. John Whittingdale, the new Culture Commissar Secretary having got the BBC in his sights is unlikely to take on another lot of big beasts for the time being. It will, however, come up again before this Parliament is out for the same reason that the BBC licensing needs to be looked at: the present situation is untenable and the museums and art galleries that really are part of this country's cultural fabric are suffering.

There are, of course, many issues to be raised, not least the question of tax reform that would make it easier for people to donate large sums to the various cultural institutions. They do a great deal of it already but why not make it easier to do so? The answer is that the Treasury would not like it but, maybe, we should stop listening to the Treasury.

In the end I do not think that the big institutions in London and other cities can survive without some money from the taxpayer; they do not anywhere else, not even in the US. The question is how that money is to be administered and what other funding can be raised.

This is the point at which the question of paying for entry is raised, only to be dismissed through various spurious reasons. We already pay through our taxes, I have heard from one person. Yes we do but we also pay for various theatres and opera houses and companies, yet there is no suggestion that seats at the National Theatre or Covent Garden be free. Furthermore, a good many visitors do not pay those taxes, being visitors in this country but the solution to that, seriously proposed by people who ought to know better, that there should be a system of some people paying but not others on the basis of whether they are contributing anything in direct taxation, would require the setting up of such a complicated bureaucracy as to make one's head spin.

If people are made to pay for entry to museums and art galleries they will stop going is the favourite refrain, which somehow manages to ignore the fact that almost every other country charges for entry and, apparently, people still go. In fact, in almost every other city in Western Europe and North America one will find more local people as a proportion of visitors than in London, where the large museums and art galleries are overwhelmingly filled with tourists. The only other place that might be comparable in that respect is Paris.

A couple of weeks ago I spent a few days in Budapest. While there I went to see a very fine exhibition of József Rippl-Rónay and Maillol at the Hungarian National Gallery, where visitors have to pay. As usual, the place was full and, though there were many tourists, the majority were Hungarians.

On Thursday I went to see the superb exhibition of John Singer Sargent portraits at the National Portrait Gallery; it was quite well attended and most of the visitors were local. This, I find, is quite normal: while the permanent collections, which are free at the point of entry, tend to be filled by tourists, the exhibitions that have to be paid for get a far higher proportion of local visitors.

Could it be that we should think counter-intuitively and accept that more people will visit museums and art galleries if (or when) they start charging for entry?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Ten days after the constitutional non-crisis - 1

Ten days ago a constitutional crisis did not happen. Actually it was never going to happen as neither a minority government nor a coalition negotiated over some days do constitutional crises make. Now that I think of it this country has not had a constitutional crisis since the Abdication but try telling that to the average political hack or the average left-winger. To the latter a Conservative government (and I am afraid that is what we are going to have for the foreseeable future) is a constitutional crisis all of its own.

These ten days have been a little difficult. Every morning I sat down at my computer with the firm decision of doing this posting at last, then found that various stories just continued to emerge, if not about UKIP (stop sniggering at the back) then about the Labour leadership election (well, at least they are having one). So today I have decided to write a general piece about the election and its immediate aftermath and hope that nothing very serious happens in the next couple of hours while I work on it.

Is political life back to normal? Well, some aspects of it: David Cameron is putting together his first fully Conservative government and various media outlets are coming up with irrelevant facts about new Ministers that makes them look evil and sinister whereas they are no more that than any other politician.

For instance, we have found out that the new Minister of State at the Department of Work and Pensions, Priti Patel, has once expressed herself in favour of capital punishment, and is now refusing to talk about it, apparently under the impression that this has nothing to do with her new job. Michael Gove, the new Justice Secretary, as a Times columnist wrote that he was in favour of capital punishment and - shock, horror - criticized the Lawrence Inquiry. Could somebody pass me the smelling salts, please? Thank you.

Then there is the Equalities Minister, Caroline Dinenage, who is against gay marriage. She may or may not have done a U-turn on that but, either way, it is of little importance. You could say, as someone did to me, that this constitutes a clash of interests but, in actual fact, her private opinion makes no difference.

For the record capital punishment is not about to be brought back and gay marriage is not about to be abolished. (And we should not have something so preposterous as an Equalities Minister.) Therefore, what individual Ministers think on either of those subjects is irrelevant and not in the same category as the new Culture Minister's well-known view that the BBC's licence should be reformed out of existence. That is a matter for discussion (and this blog supports him) as it is a matter of policy. Private opinions on non-issues are not.

It never ceases to amaze me that the same journalists (and ordinary people) who complain about politicians being boring, lacking in real opinion, producing only PR sound-bites also get into an uproar whenever there is the slightest indication of one of those politicians not ticking all the "right" boxes.

EU "renegotiation" is back on the agenda or sort of, with Andy Burnham, the leading candidate for the Labour leadership (and the man who carries some of the blame for the mid-Staffs hospital scandal) is already urging (and here) David Cameron to conduct those supposed re-negotiations as fast as possible and have a Brexit referendum as early as possible. Well, I have always said that the earlier we have a referendum the more likely we are to lose, which explains Burnham's attitude but makes one wonder why Nigel Farage, the UKIP Leader in Perpetuity should be so anxious to have one this year.

The election campaign was extremely dull as most people agreed and the appearance of daily opinion polls with minuscule and statistically irrelevant movements hailed as great news stories did not help. Of course, there were a few stories that enlivened matters.

There was, in case anyone has forgotten it, Harriet Harman's pink minibus, specially for women voters - so unthreatening to the little housewife. There was the famous EdStone with the six meaningless promises made by the former Leader of the Labour Party, which then disappeared and has now been found in some industrial warehouse. I am not sure the fact that the man who carved it and then felt sorry for Miliband is actually a Tory voter, is much of an issue. it raises a smile but not much more than that. Well, somebody had to carve it once the Labour strategists decided on having such a stupid gimmick and to spend about £30,000 on it.

A less entertaining story was the attendance by a number of senior Labour politicians, including Jack Dromey, husband of Harriet Harman at a political rally organized by Labour political activists which decided on gender segregation. Ms Harman, who would have been eaten for breakfast by some of those tough Labour ladies of yore, justified it all by rejoicing in the fact that at least the women were allowed to be present. (Goodness, I actually agree with Nigel Farage's comment at the end of that article.)

So, on to the various leadership elections (for those who are having them). For a boring election campaign it produced some wonderful results, not least the sight of three party leaders resigning within hours of the result becoming obvious. Well, OK, two party leaders resigning and one offering to resign with the obvious proviso that he will stand for re-election, then unresigning. Why it took Jim Murphy, the Leader of the Scottish Labour party to resign, given the catastrophic result he delivered is a mystery but getting immediately involved in a spat with the boss of Unite, Len McCluskey is providing the Scottish Labour voters with much needed fun. Roughly speaking they each think that the destruction of the Scottish Labour representation in Westminster is the other's fault and, anyway, they should separate themselves from the Labour party in London. This could run and run.

Oddly enough, neither of them mentions the fact that for years the Scottish Labour party allied itself with the SNP in order to drive the Conservatives out of the Scottish politics, even making that famous joke about pandas in Scotland. All I can say is that be careful when you start riding a tiger and remember what happened to the lady from Riga:

The came back from the ride
With the lady inside
And the smile on the face of the tiger.

That is exactly what has happened to the Scottish Labour Party with the SNP playing the part of the tiger. For my readers' information there are two pandas in Edinburgh zoo so while it is fair to say that there are more of them than either Labour or Conservative MPs there are fewer than non-SNP ones. Some kind of an achievement.

So the Labour leadership contest: the media favourite Chukka Umunna, has dropped out of that election. He says that it is because he could not stand the strain of media attention, the media is speculating what it is he does not want anyone to find out.

The Mail is suggesting that it has something to do with his father's mysterious death in a car crash in 1992 when he stood for the governorship of a Nigerian state on anti-corruption platform. There are suspicions that it may have been a political assassination. While accepting all of that it seems an odd reason. Surely Mr Umunna couldn't have recalled all this three days after he threw his stylish hat into the ring.

Then there are stories of his girlfriend, who appeared with him when he announced his candidacy, as well as his grandmother were hounded by the media. I'll give him the grandmother but the girlfriend, a lawyer, as so many Labour politicians and their partners are, has shown herself to be part of the campaign.

The Express is less generous: their theory is that Mr Umunna was afraid that his drinking habits will be revealed. I can't resist quoting three paragraphs from the article:
The shadow business secretary, who dramatically pulled out of the contest to replace Ed Miliband, is a regular at the club, where steak costs £150 and a bottle of cognac is up to £4,000.

He was seen at the M Den, an eel skin-lined room in central London, during the General Election campaign and last week he blamed the pressure of media scrutiny for his decision to pull out of the leadership race.

Described on the M restaurant’s website as a place where guests can “get up to mischief”, the club is so exclusive even celebrity status doesn’t guarantee access.
Why should this matter, you might ask? Well, one of the issues the Labour party is agonizing at the moment is the perception that they are now a party of rather well off middle class toffs who have little if any interest in or ideas for what might be called the ordinary people of this country. A membership of such a club (I imagine it must be true or there would have been threats of libel action by now) would not go down too well, particularly as Mr Umunna has been described before as having as somewhat haughty attitude to the plebs.

So he is out and Labour is not about to have a black Leader. Given past history, I assume that whenever we have a non-white Prime Minister, he or she will be a Conservative. Which reminds me of a small piece of news: we now have the first British Chinese MP, Alan Mak from Havant. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, he is a Conservative. Did you expect anything else? His family background, education and professional career is well worth reading.

Meanwhile, the Labour leadership hopefuls, described by the Guardian as "spadocracy", all but one of the ones we know, being former special advisers or spads. Mary Creagh, the one non-spad, also has a different hair style from the others. Otherwise, diversity seems to be strangely absent in any way from these hopefuls as Guido points out. Scions of privilege he describes them, and that is what they are. None of them grew up in a flat above a small shop as did Mr Mak, the new Havant MP.

[To be continued ... and this time it will happen]

Never let a crisis go to waste

The BBC reports that "European Union ministers approve plans to establish naval force to combat people-smugglers operating from Libya". Never let a crisis go to waste though approving a naval force and creating one, let alone making it operational are very different things.

Furthermore, as I recall, Libya rejected the proffered assistance by the EU, calling the intention "unclear and very worrying".

Friday, May 15, 2015

A misleading headline

EUObserver, usually quite reliable, has come up with something problematic: Extremists pose challenge to Danish democracy screams the title but the story unfolds in a somewhat misleading fashion.

The "extremists" of the title are right-wing politicians from the Golden Dawn, a deeply unpleasant, authoritarian and racist Greek party to Geert Wilders, whose mostly main stream opinions are seen as beyond the pale because of his insistence on the need for immigrants to adapt to European values and for immigration to be controlled.
Far-right European politicians, Golden Dawn from Greece and Geert Wilders from the Netherlands, are attending a festival (Folkemodet) on the Danish island of Bornholm on 11-14 June.

The open-air political festival features prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt as a main speaker as well as most of the government, opposition party leaders, business representatives, trade unions, media and cultural celebrities.

Folkemodet is a Danish counterpart to the famous Swedish Almedalveckan, which each year draws up to thousands of visitors to the Swedish island of Gotland.
So far, so unthreatening to democracy.
As many as 100,000 participants are expected to attend the Baltic sea island Bornholm event but this year's first-ever attendence by far-right politicians will prove a challenge to Denmark's tradition of openness and freedom of speech.

The presence of Wilders – who has received scores of death threats over the years for his anti-Islamic views – will also mean a large security upgrade at the popular festival.

The press freedom organisation, Trykkefrihedsselskabet, invited Wilders to speak.

Georgios Epitideios, a former general and Golden Dawn member of the European Parliament, has also confirmed his participation. Golden Dawn, from Greece, is considered to be a neo-Nazi party.

Epitideios was invited by ’The Danes’ party’, a small ultra-right party, which has no elected representatives at the national or local level.

"We have chosen to debate, among other things, what we want in Europe. And it is natural to invite a party that is really big," head of the party, Daniel Carlsen, told Berlingske Tidende.

The news has already caused several politicians to cancel their participation.

"There will be so many police on the island that it will spoil the whole mood, and it will ruin my experience," Liberal member of the Zealand Regional Council, Claus Bakke said.
So, let me get this straight. Certain politicians have been threatened by other people and will, therefore, need increased security; certain other politicians have, therefore, pulled out of the event either because as they blandly explain the atmosphere will be different or, as is much more likely, because they are scared; and it is the politicians who are being directly threatened that "pose challenge to Danish democracy" not those who issue the threats and are, as we know, prepared to carry them out or those who are virtually blackmailing the organizers by refusing the attend. Logical, it ain't.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Some good news and a modest proposal

As we all watch with great fascination the ever more violent civil war in UKIP (pity the poor blogger who has to keep on top of things) it is good to be able to report that there is some good news around.

It seems that the Greek government has very sensibly decided not to pay Mrs Clooney's exorbitant fees follow her advice about going to the International Court of Human Rights to claim the Elgin Marbles from the British Museum.
Mrs Clooney reportedly submitted a 150-page report to the Greek government this week urging it to formally request the repatriation of the marbles and take Britain to the International Court of Justice if it refused.

But Greece's culture minister Nikos Xydakis told the country's Mega TV: "One cannot go to court over whatever issue. Besides, in international courts the outcome is uncertain".

He said he believed attitudes to the future of the Marbles were slowly changing and would favour Greece in a diplomatic approach.
That, I suspect, is a polite way of saying "we are not going to get those Marbles and may as well accept defeat with dignity and not spend huge sums on the case when we are trying to show ourselves to be really poor and in need of help".

Meanwhile, here is my modest proposal: the Greek government is really rather short of money; a good many people think that the Elgin/Parthenon Marbles should be reunited though, as it happens, about a third of the original are missing, having been destroyed over the centuries. Why do we not have a public subscription to buy the Marbles that are still in Greece and are not nearly so well looked after as the ones here and bring them over to the British Museum. I appreciate that a new gallery would have to be built but the Museum has been expanding in any case and something could be arranged.

One source of cash might be those disillusioned UKIP donors who may well be looking for some better cause to support.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Meanwhile in Poland

Britain has once again helped the world by exporting one of its finest traditions: laughing at and lying to pollsters. It is a tradition I rather admire and was a little disappointed in 2010 when, apparently, it was abandoned and the polls, especially the exit polls turned out to be absolutely accurate.

No more. This time round the polls got it completely wrong and even the exit polls were far off the mark as my short blog on the night showed. Excellent. We are back to the wonderful tradition of making clear that we consider pollsters to be a silly joke (though not as silly or as much of a joke as UKIP).

Imagine how please I was to find out that this fine tradition is now being exported from no less a person than Edward Lucas of the Economist (he made it clear on another forum that this is his work).
FIRST Israel, then Britain, and now Poland: lately it seems pollsters cannot get anything right. The Polish presidential elections were once expected to result in a smooth first-round victory for Bronisław Komorowski, the incumbent, who is backed by the ruling centre-right Civic Platform party (PO). Over the course of the campaign his ratings slipped, suggesting that although he was still leading the pack, he would face a second-round runoff against his main rival, Andrzej Duda (pictured) of the conservative Law and Justice party (PiS). Yet as exit polls began filtering in on the evening of May 10th, it became clear that the surveys had all been wrong: Mr Duda had come in first.
Very good. Let us hope some more countries take up this wonderful and rewarding pastime.

However, the upset (perhaps temporary as the system is a complicated and long-drawn out one) in the Polish presidential election is interesting.

Not only it marks the return of the Law and Justice Party (PiS) that was seen to be on its last legs not so long ago but it also shows that Poles do not like to be taken for granted. Not for the first time they seem to be turning against the "acceptable" party and candidate, in this case Bronislaw Komorowski of the Civic Platform (PO).
No champagne corks popped at the president’s election-night event at Warsaw’s national stadium. Within 15 minutes of the final exit-poll announcement, Mr Komorowski had left the room. His supporters shuffled around the coffee machines, wondering what had gone wrong. As of mid-afternoon the next day, with 27 of 51 districts reporting their official results, Mr Duda had 36.7% of the votes, with Mr Komorowski at 31.9%.
There seem to be some other unexpected results for independent candidates as well.

Mr Duda is said to oppose Poland's entry into the euro. an eminently sensible point of view, even if you are in favour of the European Union; he is also supposedly in favour of lowering the retirement age. Now that is not very sensible in the modern world where people live longer and keep their faculties longer. Not only countries cannot afford it (and Poland's economy is not quite as good as one would like it to be as witnessed by the number of people who cannot find jobs there and go abroad to do so) but it seems insane to throw people on the rubbish heap for the last twenty-five, thirty years of their lives.

Of course, this could be a clever ploy to make sure that some of the older workers, on retiring early, also go abroad to get jobs.

Second round on May 24. Then we shall see.

Meanwhile back with the losers

It is becoming rather hard to list or even to read all the hand-wringing articles that are agonizing over what "went wrong" on Thursday. It is not just the left like the Grauniad or quasi-left like the BBC that is agonizing. However, for them this is all reminiscent of the ninth circle of hell. All because the ungrateful people will not vote for those nice left-wing parties.

No-one can skewer the self-righteous left and its contempt for the people than Brendan O'Neill. Do, please, take the time to read this piece. It is extremely good. Here is just one quote that really destroys that nasty little twerp, Owen Jones as well la Toynbee and assorted celebs:
Other celebs, including Steve Coogan and John Cleese, supported this election-day hectoring of the electorate to break free of their alleged slavishness to Murdoch. ‘Vote for what’s best for you… not what’s best for Rupert Murdoch’, they said, conjuring up a bizarre image of unthinking plebs heading to the voting booths thinking: ‘I must obey Murdoch, I must obey Murdoch.’ The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee used election day, not to celebrate the great right of people to choose their leaders, but to continue the slurs against what she called ‘weak readers’ — members of the electorate whose ‘mind-blowing ignorance’ means they are ‘unaware how their daily struggles will be fought out in distant Westminster’. In a profound irony, Jones tried to get people to vote by reminiscing on the struggles of the Chartists and Suffragettes, yet he and other prominent Labour supporters trotted out the same arguments that were used against the Chartists and Suffragettes: namely that working men and women are too fearful and emotional to be trusted with voting, since ‘government by emotion quickly degenerates into injustice’, as one anti-Suffragette magazine put it.
The reason all these people and others like them loathed Thatcher is because she tapped into the working class desire to have a better life and not go on living, working and educating their children (sadly that is still true in so many places) in the way that has been laid down for them by the left-wing elites. Much of that is voiced in Martin Durkin's documentary, Margaret Thatcher - Death of a Revolutionary.

The left is not alone. UKIP, with some justification, complained about the fact that their share of the vote, which put them into third place, gave them one seat. Well, the people of this country were asked whether they wanted to change the voting system and they said no. Do we now re-run the referendum and keep on re-running it until we get the right result?

Others have written about the country being divided. Sure. It's called democracy. The alternative is a country where the winning (and only) party gets 95% of the vote (or the UKIP NEC where there are no divisions).

The system is broken, I read in a number of places. Because some people lost? That surely means the system is functioning very well.

The country is now unstable. Au contraire. Despite all predictions we have a majority government that is perfectly stable and is being formed even as we speak.

As Professor Higgins said to Eliza Doolittle, "cease your boo-hooing".

Meanwhile back in UKIP

While I am struggling with that long post-election blog and David Cameron is forming his new government (with strange stories about some of his Ministers being in favour of capital punishment or against gay marriage, neither issue being on the agenda) we have news of the UKIP deciding not to take this chance of becoming a serious party after all. Instead, they are now a joke or a cult, depending on one's point of view. I imagine all my readers know what I am referring to: the strange unresignation by Nigel Farage.

As it happens, I never thought that our Nige would really go. It seemed to me that he would tender his resignation and then his loving people would bring him back amid much cheering and popping of corks. But even I thought the process would take more than three days. The cheering of the loving people who seem unable to realize that this is making party a laughing stock is deafening as any site that has comments by UKIPers will demonstrate.

This article on Breitbart, usually a fairly reliable UKIP supporting site, shows the whole process of the Farage political resurrection in a somewhat doubtful light. It is worth reading some of the hysterically adoring comments from what one must assume are average UKIPers. In case anyone is worried, the story has been denied by the UKIP NEC. They were not disunited, did not disagree and were as one in their support of the Dear Leader. Long Live Chairman Farage. (Standing ovation, prolonged applause lasts half an hour.)

I fear for Andre Walker's future.

And, as it happens, for Douglas Carswell's: if the Spectator is right he has some serious thinking to do about it and that may not be to UKIP's benefit.

Friday, May 8, 2015

This is what we really celebrate today

Seventy years ago today (just):

A brief comment

I shall be writing a longer blog about the election results later on and have many things to say. Well, you would not expect me to keep quiet.

First, however, I shall gloat: who predicted that the Conservatives will win a small overall majority and UKIP will end up with just one seat? And who gets no money for her analyses and predictions? Going on from there, allow me to ask how many of those highly paid analysts and experts who got everything wrong will do the decent thing and resign? Ha! The answer is a nice round number.

On that and much more (for instance what do we do about Scotland now and whither UKIP) later on, after I have done a stint on the BBC Russian Service.

In the meantime, let us rejoice in the discomfiture of many of our enemies, particularly the highly paid analysts and experts. I suspect I shall be reminding them of the drivel they wrote in the last few weeks for some time to come.

Oh and I shall be arguing that UKIP is a classic example of a Continental party. Heh!

Well, nobody has ever said that I was a nice person or particularly ladylike.

And now ...

From the BBC website:
Polling expert John Curtice says the results so far broadly reflect the exit poll. The initial forecast is looking "certainly reasonably OK". He does not rule out the Conservatives taking 323 seats, which would give them a majority in the Commons.
Ha! I may yet proved to be right on a small Tory majority.

At 01.10 Nick Robinson tweeted this on the BBC:
If this exit poll is correct, for Ed Miliband's Labour Party to do worse than Gordon Brown's Labour Party would be amazing. After the banking crisis that we had under Brown, after his personal unpopularity, it really, really would be quite extraordinary.
Quite so.

Is it time to start asking what role the DUP will play in the new Parliament and the new government?

Conservatives have held two seats and Labour has held four, one of which is Nick Brown's in Newcastle East, though there seem to be swings to the Tories. Rumour has it that George Galloway has lost (still only a rumour so let us not rejoice too soon) and, as a fact, he has been reported to the West Yorkshire police for tweeting exit polls before said polls had closed.

There are also rumours that Nigel Farage may have lost in South Thanet. As part of his reason for contesting that seat was to make sure that Craig McKinlay does not get in, one can but hope that he will fail to achieve that aim.

Exit polls, which were fairly accurate in 2010 but not always before that, put the Conservatives at 316, comfortably ahead but with no overall majority with Labour winning 239 seats, Lib-Dems 10, the SNP 58 (could the Scots be that mad really?) and UKIP 2, Plaid Cymru 4 and the Greens 2, which is more than anyone predicted for them and is rather a depressing thought. So far the three results in are all seats in Sunderland, held by Labour and tells us very little.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Well, we've made it

[I wrote the following paragraphs at 4.27 this afternoon, then abandoned it for other activity, which included watching the 1948 film Cry of the City at the National Film Theatre. I have only just sat down in front of the computer and decided to post this as a kind of a prediction before I look at the news.]

We've made it to election day at least though there is plenty of time left for pundits to pour out silliness by the bucket-load. That will continue throughout this evening and I am not at all sure I shall bother to stay up late. It will have to be very late as we are unlikely to have any clear ideas about the future for some time. This is not 1997.

For what it's worth I think we shall have a Conservative government with a tiny majority or in a minority. Whether that will mean another coalition with the Lib-Dims remains to be seen. Furthermore, I  do not think UKIP will do well. This is being acknowledged by all and sundry but the likelihood of them peaking long before election day was fairly clear to me for some time.

OK, OK, tomorrow I might have to eat crow but not, I suspect, about UKIP.

Um, no it doesn't

EurActiv quotes Norway’s minister for EEA and EU Affairs, Vidar Helgesen, on the subject of Brexit and the debates around them.

Three things need to be said before we look at what Mr Helgesen said. Firstly, the country he represents is not a member of the EU because its people have consistently voted against that membership; secondly, the country has remained an active player on the international scene; and thirdly, despite what the article says, Brexit has not been "high on the British election campaign agenda" precisely because David Cameron promised "an in/out referendum on the UK's EU membership if he is re-elected". What was relatively high on the agenda was the referendum and whether one should be held. The question of Brexit itself was neatly shelved for the time being.

Nevertheless, it seems that Mr Helgesen is sufficiently worried to issue a warning.
But Helgesen says there are some important aspects of EU membership that have been left out of the British debate so far.

For example, a British exist - or 'Brexit' - could leave the UK out of the comprehensive trade agreement being negotiated with the United States.

'Brexit' would also leave the UK out of important EU foreign ministers meetings addressing the standoff with Russia over Ukraine.

“Leaving that position of influence… I have a hard time seeing that. I don’t think it would serve Europe, but ultimately that is the British people who should determine that,” he said.
I am not sure what of the debate Mr Helgesen has been reading but the questions of defence, security and foreign policy have come up a few times and discussed from various angles.

As for the position of influence (I am aware that I have not completed my discussion of that subject), one has to say that within the EU's common foreign policy Britain has about zero, unlike the influence and, indeed, the choice of action it has within NATO.

Still it is good of Mr Helgesen to admit that it is the British people who should determine that. Just as the Norwegian people have determined twice that this was not for them.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

We are getting there

I do not believe I have ever watched or experienced a more boring, stupid and content-less campaign in all the years (since my school days) that I have been interested in politics. As the last day of campaigning wears on I shall write about it some more but now I'd like to concentrate briefly on one subject that is supposed to be the political holy of holies: the NHS.

We all know what a lot of nonsense is spoken about it; we all know how ridiculous is the claim that without the NHS most people would not have access to healthcare because, it would seem, in all other developed countries sick people are simply dying in the streets; and we also know that there is a great deal of nonsense spoken about the NHS being untouchable because everyone adores it and would not have things any other way. People might (but only might as I don't trust the way hacks reinterpret things) say that but the number of British people who have some kind of a health insurance is growing all the time and most employers offer some form of it as part of the employment package.

A good many of my frustrations with people who seem unable to think straight about healthcare were summed up by an interesting briefing paper, recently produced by the Institute of Economic Affairs, entitled What Are We Afraid Of? and subtitled Universal healthcare in market-oriented health systems. It is not a long paper and well worth reading (the link takes you to the pdf version of it).

Kristian Niemietz, the author, says a couple of times that he is not producing solutions to the enormous problems all healthcare systems in the developed world face but he is advocating a more rational discussion that looks at systems that are not single-payer ones, like the NHS and not the US system, which, in his opinion (and I agree) "is singled out because its well-known flaws make it a relatively easy target to attack".

The three countries he does look at have various versions of social health insurance (SHI) systems and are none the worse for it. They are Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland, where the population as a whole has access to high level of medical care but where the funding system is complex and involves a great many private for profit and non profit organizations. Yet, this systems, which would be relatively easy to introduce in the UK and they may well improve the healthcare we have, are never discussed because that might destroy the myth of the NHS's uniqueness.

Two paragraphs from the Summary give a very good idea of the inadequate standard of discussion:
The UK is far from being the only country which has achieved universal access to healthcare. With the notable exception of the US, practically all developed countries (and plenty of developing countries) have managed to do so in one way or another. But Britain is probably the only country where universal healthcare coverage is still celebrated as if it was a very special achievement.

The NHS is often unduly eulogised for minor achievements, because it is being held to unrealistically low standards. The NHS should not be compared with the state of healthcare as it was prior to 1948, or with a hypothetical situation in which all healthcare costs had to be paid out of pocket. Rather, it should be compared with the most realistic alternative: the social health insurance (SHI) systems of Continental Europe, especially the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany.
Curiously enough, soon after I finished reading the paper I came across one of those "you have one day in which to save the NHS" comments on another forum in which UK system was lauded more or less because it managed to save one person's life. Apparently, no other system could do anything of the kind.

Read the whole paper. The subject is not going to go away, not even after tomorrow.