16 August, 2014

Yo Kurdistan!

Of course. Why didn't we think of it before? The solution to this Middle East business is to arm the

The Kurds have been suffering from this ISIS incursion as well and now all we have to do is deliver shedloads of armaments and their plucky little Peshmerga fighters will sort out the loonies.

So....who are they? I know the British Foreign Office doesn't usually ask this before we fight alongside strangers and teach them how to use high-tech weaponry but this time, let's ask it.

The Kurds are a people who haven't got a country. they'd like one, and will call it Kurdistan. Good. Our weaponry will be helping them achieve that noble aim. Er.... where exactly will Kurdistan be?

Good question. They would like a bit of Iraq, where they have around 6 million people, a bit of Iran (also about 6m) a bit of Syria (2m) and quite a large chunk of Turkey (12m). On the borders of these countries is where they want to establish their homeland.

See any problems here? Aren't we against the partitioning of Iraq? Since a large number of Kurds are Sunni Muslims might a few of them not be completely unfriendly to ISIS? When they attack our NATO partner Turkey the NATO Treaty will oblige us to defend the Turks, fighting our own weaponry.

Why hasn't this Kurdistan been established before? Because they haven't had the weaponry.

Remember two things: the British Foreign Office should be closed down in the national interest and there is nothing so awful about the Middle East that we can't make it a bit worse.

15 August, 2014


This blog's compliments to Ranbi Singh Suri who has been elevated to the peerage, described by the Government as 'a leading figure among Sikhs'.

The Secretary General of the Sikh Council UK, Gurmel Singh, however, said he'd never heard of Suri.

The Conservative Party has of course head of him because he has donated more than £300,000 to it.

I am not getting into a panic about cash for peerages because that is the system we have. What I am saying is that we must change it. We still have a few hereditary peers, incredibly but the rest are all placemen: donors, failed politicians, mates. And these are our legislators. There are now so many they can't even fit into the chamber.

In good time for the next election, probably on the Feast of All Fools, I shall be publishing my manifesto, and it will include what we can do about this.


We have all seen the latest figures from Europe. Italy registered a second quarter of negative growth, putting it officially in recession, although effectively it has been in recession since 2011. France is stagnant and no one would be surprised if its high tax-high spend model tipped it into recession quite soon. Germany has now recorded negative growth, In fact it was only some surprising figures from Portugal which stopped the entire Eurozone from going into the red.

While Britain and America surge ahead, Europe is stagnant, and doesn't appear to have a policy to emerge from stagnation.

I don't want to bore everyone by saying that I predicted exactly this. Others will write the history of the Eurozone but it seems to me that Germany awoke late to the fact that rather than bringing the constituent economies together the euro kept them apart.

Germany perceived, correctly, serious flaws in several, mainly Southern economies, flaws which its own economy didn't appear to have, and then wrongly perceived this as the root of the problem. They would have to get efficient, rein back the trade unions, cut the barriers to work, the bureaucracy and so on, OR recognise they couldn't afford the public services they were giving their people and cut them.

What they failed to realise is firstly that these flaws had resulted in a breakdown of the money transmission systems. Banks lent to their friends, and in any case were stuffed with public debt instruments and had no money to lend.

The second thing they failed to realise was that these flaws and indeed the public service levels were institutionalised. I remember a Greek Trade Unionist saying that he had spent his professional life getting public services to a European level, and he wasn't going to have them taken away by Germany. It was not long before he remembered the war.

And in these countries - Italy is a good example, with France not far behind - the government spending had produced personal fifedoms which had hooked up with politicians. Politicians had relatives and friends on the boards of public and semi-public companies, private companies had political 'friends' which smoothed their passage, trade unions were in on the act. It was never going to be easy to change and if you take a look at Italy you'll find that it scarcely has.

But the financial woes remained and credit is too tight to allow growth. Some bright spark in the IMF said Italy should embark on a programme of public investment, in railways and roads and so on. And where would it get the money to do that, while it is up against its 3% budget ceiling (France is way over it)? And you can pretty well name the families in Calabria, Campania and Sicily who are going to do well out of that.

Europe needs a commitment to reform but right now, more urgently, it needs an easing of credit conditions. It needs to be flooded with money.

The only bright spot on the horizon is that if the Germans think they are going into recession, they might start to take the project seriously.

Europe was set up to be self suifficient: a vast area which traded largely with itself and was surrounded (they thought protected) by tariff barriers. They should have realised that in a crowded room, if one person has a cold, they all get it.

If you have a child or grandchild, send them to America or the Far East. Europe is dying and will be so for another generation.

Cliff Richard

For as long as I can remember, people have wanted to tell me something they knew for certain about Cliff Richard's personal life.

So one shouldn't be surprised that in the present mood of public hysteria the police have decided to have a tilt at this highly public figure.

I am not sure, though, that we can be proud about what is happening. Someone in the police or social services tipped off the media and the cameras were already waiting when the police arrived to search his flat in Berkshire.

Do not forget that this is a man who has not even been interviewed by the police, much less cautioned or charged, much less sent for trial, much less found guilty.

The law must take its course, but I think we are only just now beginning to learn that people who have been in the public eye, who rely for their living on being in the public eye, can be ruined without being guilty, and ruined by the very media which gave them the publicity.

The Daily Mail giveth and the Daily Mail taketh away.

14 August, 2014


I have another piece in The Commentator about Europe. Read it: it's free


But for a cock-up, this piece would have appeared in The Commentator.
Another year, it would seem, another rip-off scandal in Rome. This time it was some Americans who felt they had paid too much for their ice creams and took the carabinieri along to the ice cream parlour. There they were shown the price list, which was clearly displayed in accordance with the law.  A similar thing happened to some British tourists last year.

Perhaps the daddy of them all was in 2009 in a famous restaurant called Il Passetto, where two Japanese ran up a bill for €700 before going back with the police. The restaurant, once the haunt of Ava Gardner and the Hollywood A-list, was closed down, for public health reasons. It has since reopened under new management.

In protest at his treatment, the proprietor pinned on the window what the Japanese had eaten: three starters each of mushrooms, scampi and oysters; pasta with 2kg of lobster; 1.5kg sea bass served with potatoes; fruit compote and ice cream. A pretty sporting lunch! They were presented with a bill for €579 which they made up to €700 having had their photographs taken with the waiter.

There is no need to be ripped off in Rome and no more likelihood of it than in London or Paris. In fact eating out is fairly cheap.

Here is my guide to your Roman Holiday.

Transport. The taxi fare from Fiumicino Airport is fixed at €48 (€30 from Ciampino) which takes you anywhere inside the Aurelian walls (built 275 AD). Far cheaper are the Terravision buses which drop you near the station and which you can book up online. The fare from Termini station to the centre is €10-12; there is no need to tip the driver although they are grateful if you do. Only go in licensed taxis. Look at the meter.

Roman buses are high speed and innards-shaking over the cobbles but a ticket is only €1.50 for 75 minutes, encompassing as many trips as you can take.

Eating and drinking. The way an Italian uses a bar is to enter, announcing noisily what he will have (the bartender can compute dozens of orders at a time), talk to someone briefly while standing up, perhaps waving a croissant or slice of pizza as he speaks. He leaves within minutes and might go back three or four times in a day.

In cities and tourist areas you pay to sit down; and the bill might be double or treble. I once paid maybe five times the going rate for coffee overlooking the main square in Siena. It was worth it. The going rate is about €1 for an espresso and around €1.20 for a cappuccino.

Naturally you pay a lot more for a restaurant in a known tourist location like Piazza del Popolo or the via Veneto. There are hundreds of restaurants in the cobbled streets to the west of Piazza Navona where you can get a decent meal for €25-30. A pizza and beer will cost around €12. If you like plenty of cheap wine (I do) go to one which has a house wine in ½ litre and litre carafes rather than stuff in labelled bottles.

It is years since I could get through a full meal of antipasto, Primo (pasta course), Secondo (main course) and dolce (pudding). Just tell the waiter what you want, perhaps antipasto and primo at lunch, antipasto and secondo at dinner. And why not try an ice cream afterwards?

I don’t know why ice cream should be the cause of so many complaints. Look at the menu and have an eye to the quantity you want. One of the best places is Giolitti in via degli Uffici del Vicario, near the Pantheon. Some say it’s the best. A scoop is around €3.50. You pay in advance and they don’t want you sitting down (reserved for people eating their expensive pastries). You can even jump the queue by ordering and paying on your smartphone.
Then do like the Romans: walk the ancient streets with your loved one, sharing the flavours and getting fat together. It is the only food it is acceptable to eat on the street.
Hotels: cheap and simple near the station, expensive in the centre.
Enjoy it and always come back.

08 August, 2014

No you don't

Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland, having been discomfited by his debating opponent who insisted he answer the question of Scotland's currency, has said 'Scotland will keep the pound as of right'.

I am afraid this is a right limited to members of the United Kingdom.

By the way, the name of the currency is Sterling.

Scotland's currency will decline by at least 20% if they vote for Independence. This could be a good thing, but probably won't be. They don't have the industry or the flexible labour markets to benefit from more competitive exports.

Currently the Scottish Currency is issued by Bank of Scotland, Clydesdale Bank and Royal Bank. Check your wallets for these notes.

What Salmond would like to do is say that he will allow Rest of UK to keep its nuclear base at Faslane if Scotland can use sterling. Unfortunately if he said this none of the loony left would vote for him, so he would lose anyway.

Here we go

Barack Obama seems keen to bomb Iraq, renewing a war from which the USA has only just disengaged itself. Who can doubt that Britain will be not far behind?

This is a war, in part of our making, between two branches of Islam, Sunni and Shia. In Syria, and that wasn't very long ago, was it, Barack?, we were going to support the Sunni against Assad. Now we are going to attack them.

Firstly, this is none of our business. Where are the political playmakers Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar? Why aren't they doing something? Why aren't Russia and China, who wanted to defend the Syrian Shia against the Sunnis and against Western intervention, why aren't they involved in this? What about the rest of Europe? Does anyone seriously think Germany and Belgium are going to take their fair share of casualties and expense?

Second, you know what is going to happen. We will get drawn further and further into this and before you know it there will be helicopters, then special forces, then ordinary soldiers. These things always escalate.

Third, this is going to give more grounds for militant western muslims, from Birmingham and Leicester and Manchester and Bradford, to say they will retaliate for the bombing by starting their own bombing campaign, on British soil.

Parliament should be recalled to discuss the crisis and it should take the decision to take no action whatsoever other than diplomatic.
PS Obama is the fourth President in a row to bomb Iraq. It seems to be a rite of passage.

06 August, 2014

Not Alexander

Alexander the Great, you will recall, wept because there were no new worlds to conquer. This is not so of the ..er.. less great Alexander 'Boris' Johnson. For Heaven's sake, John 'Vince' Cable, Gideon 'George' Osborne, why can't these people use their own names?

Anyway, Johnson wants to conquer No.10 Downing St, and he is, as the Americans say 'making his run'. He is looking for a safe seat for the 2015 election.

I don't like Johnson, and would never vote for him. Nor would I vote for any party which he led. He is a shallow self-publicist, albeit a good one. The speech in which he announced this was one where he declared that Britain would survive outside the European Union. Perhaps there should be joy in Heaven when any sinner repenteth but he has had ages to make this announcement (I have been saying it since 1991). I don't suppose he believes it - or indeed believes the contrary. He just saw which way the wind was blowing in the Tory Party.

He never seems to fail with his self-publicity, though. Even the occasion when he was stuck on a rope slide - something which would have been a disaster for, say, Harriet Harman, he managed to come out of it fairly well. The truth of the tale is that they ask you how much you weigh so they can adjust the pulley, and he refused to tell them and it went wrong. Like Winnie the Pooh, seeking the honey of publicity, he was stuck because he was too fat.

And I don't like his private life. For me anyone who could treat his marriage vows in such a shoddy way could equally forget a promise he made to the people who elected him. And here is an example, with this very speech. In 2012 he solemnly promised the electorate of London that he would not stand as an MP while he was mayor of London. Oooh! said the voters, that means he won't be standing in 2015. Wrong.

It is arrogance: promises don't apply to him, they only have to be kept by little people. We have seen this type of arrogance in some bank employees and in Andy Coulson, former editor of a newspaper. We really don't need it on the front line of politics.

Johnson is untrustworthy and a cheat. If the Tory Party take up with him he will let them down without a care in the world. For Alexander the Less they are the equivalent of Marx's useful idiots. It will be the biggest mistake they have ever made.

04 August, 2014

Pro Patria

The one hundredth anniversary of the start of the First World War. I have always thought I understood the Second World War, with its clear threat of invasion, but this previous one seems mysterious, even now, which is perhaps why it holds such fascination for the newspapers.

Commemoration began months ago, in an almost triumphal tone, as if the start of a war which killed millions were something to celebrate. Now it seems to be on a personal level, respecting 'our heroes' who died for our liberty.

Let me say I don't think the First World War was about our liberty and I think a hero risks his life knowing the risks. They volunteered, most of them - there was no conscription until 1916 - in utter ignorance.

They believed somehow that there was a glory which transcended dying. They must have been shocked at the lack of individualism engendered by so many troops and so much mechanisation. Agamemnon and Achilles were not mown down in their thousands, nameless, numberless corpses. It was no place for heroes. Were they naive, or were they duped?

If any of the Prime Ministers in my lifetime had asked me to go to war I should have looked very carefully, not just at the risks, but at the motive. Supposing Tony Blair had, from the safety of his bunker, asked for the ultimate sacrifice for what he perceived as the nation's duty!

Those were different, trusting times. No one supposed that Asquith or Grey had in fact no idea what a war would be like.

I can't help feeling that our present mood of scepticism and mistrust of politics, regretted by some, in fact makes our time far happier. Perhaps that is the lesson of the Great War.

As to the rest of it, we still seem keen to start a fight. We and the French bombed Libya to remove Kadafy without the slightest clue as to what would come after him. Our then Foreign Secretary, Hague, wanted to fight in Syria, in support of the very same Sunni Muslims who are now causing havoc in Iraq. And Iraq itself is a disaster, largely of our making. So is Afghanistan, which has lasted longer than the First and Second World wars together. Finally Hague (again) was down in Kiev supporting a mob which overthrew Ukraine's democratically elected government, ably supported by those great international statesmen Hermann van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton.

It seems the people have learned to say no, but the politicians have not. 

29 July, 2014

Against the rules

A British cricketer has caused outrage by wearing wristbands saying 'Defend Israel from terrorism' and 'Back the Israeli Defence Force'.

Nah. That really would have caused outrage. In fact Moeen Ali wore wristbands supporting Gaza and Hamas so it's all right. No one is going to complain, despite the fact that it is against the International Cricket Council's rules to wear any contentious or political clothing.

22 July, 2014


Mr Cameron has made another daft speech, this time on the Russia / Ukraine crisis.

He says there should be further sanctions on Russia, perhaps in the areas of defence and energy.

Of course Cameron knows that the French are selling warships to Russia and the Germans and Italians are buying their gas.

The EU started this crisis by destabilising Russia's borders but having successfully (in the British press at least) pinned the blame on Putin, cannot now agree on procedure.

You can't help feeling the world would be a better and safer place if the EU didn't get involved in foreign affairs at all, but there again that is also probably true of the British Foreign Office.

16 July, 2014


The fact that, after Mr Cameron's cabinet reshuffle, there are now - what? - five women in a cabinet of 22 does not seem to change much.

What is of most interest is that Cameron has done something cosmetic, at what, one would have thought, was an important juncture in the country's governance, the election being ten months away.

It's almost as if Cameron didn't actually believe anything (except that he'd like to be Prime Minister, he believes that all right) but just tinkers with things, irrespective of what they mean or how they function. Tony Blair was like this.

An extraordinary headline in the Telegraph says 'Eurosceptic cabinet will win back UKIP voters'. I presume this has been fed to the papers by Conservative HQ (the Telegraph has sacked most of its reporters and all its good writers).

At a pinch you might win back a UKIP voter (one who was going to vote UKIP in the General Election, not just the Euros) by setting out exactly how the UK's relationship with Europe needs to change. Here are some examples:

1. Leaving the Agricultural Policy which makes our food unnecessarily expensive so it can subsidise inefficient farming
2. Leaving the Fisheries Policy which makes our fish a 'common European resource' and thus eaten by the Spanish.
3. Abolishing the Working Time Directive which dictates how hard someone can work to support their family (and keeps it low so there is no pressure on the idle)
4.Changing the 'Single Market' so our exporters don't have to abide by the heavy burden of EU regulation when selling outside Europe, eg to the USA.
5. Stopping the prohibition of Britain from negotiating trade deals with other countries.
6. Stopping the regional policy whereby Britain subsidises Germany and vice versa but the money goes through the Eurocrats' hands. International subsidy only in cases of need, which does not include Britain.
7. Cancel all Health and Safety directives which cost jobs
8. Remove responsibility for regulating the City of London.

That would be a start. I would add kicking out Cyprus until it agreed the UN plan for resolving the border dispute with Turkey (which has agreed it).

But Cameron won't do any of this, because he doesn't really believe in anything. Come the referendum, the country will see him as so wishy washy it will vote to leave the EU.

But don't worry: if we do vote to leave Cameron will suddenly have been a eurosceptic all along. If we voted to become a circus he would volunteer to become a committed clown.

Perhpss we have.

06 July, 2014

Foreign lunches

The European Parliament is in the midst of making up its committees, a process involving arcane voting systems which is normally too soporific for this blog.

However I notice that the Foreign Affairs Committee, which allows members free travel at the taxpayer's expense, has no fewer than 71 members, 10% of the entire parliament!

Sports update

Just to keep you au courant, here is the state of our sporting performance:

Cricket: England whitewashed (5-0) in Australia then lose to Sri Lanka at home

Football: England out of the World Cup at an even earlier stage than usual

Rugby: England whitewashed (3-0) by New Zealand

Tennis: our boy (Scottish) out of Wimbledon

Cycling: Mark Cavendish crashes on first stage of the Tour de France (confusingly, in Yorkshire).

'Something,' I heard a commentator say, 'on which to build'.

05 July, 2014


Just what is going on about Britain and Europe? Anybody know?

David Cameron appears determined to accept the European Arrest Warrant. This means that a corrupt magistrate in a far away country can order your arrest, even for something which isn't a crime in Britain. The British police have to round you up and put you on a plane. Hardly any European countries have a habeas corpus law, under which you can only be held for a limited time without charge, and almost none of them have trial by jury. And yet our Prime Minister seems perfectly happy with this.

Now there are reports that he is giving away further policing powers to the EU, despite having said that he would call a referendum if that happened.

Why aren't his backbenchers in revolt? Why isn't the country in revolt? He is supposed to be clawing powers back from the EU, not giving more away.

30 June, 2014


It seems - and correct me if I have got this wrong - that in the World Cup Holland beat Mexico by a single goal from a penalty at the end of the match.

The penalty was given because the referee thought that a Dutch player, Arwen Robben, was tripped. Mr Robben has since admitted that he 'dived' - that is to say threw himself on the ground pretending to have been tripped.

Mr Robben did not admit this at the time. He did not retire from the rest of the tournament in shame, and the Dutch team manager did not dismiss him. The penalty goal was not disallowed. The Dutch have not offered a replay. The football governing body will take no action.

So Mr Robben cheated, and felt so confident that nothing would happen to him that he even admitted it.

What a strange game football is, and what a strange world we live in. Bring back Luis Suarez, who at least bites his opponents openly and without subterfuge.

28 June, 2014


At he time of the recent European lunch summit, as European leaders were queueing up to attack David Cameron, one said his proposal for the Heads of Government to decide the President of the European Commission was advocating a grubby backroom deal.

As a matter of fact on this, at least, Cameron was right. The Lisbon Treaty (bet he wishes he'd kept to his cast iron promise to hold a referendum, eh?) says that the Heads of Government will decide 'taking into account the results of the election'. Any idiot can see that the election showed an enormous rise in anti-EU voting, so they should have taken that into account.

But while we are on the subject of grubby deals, that is the way Europe operates and one of the best reasons Britain should have nothing to do with it.

Take Matteo Renzi. He at first cosied up to Cameron and said no, he thought a woman should have the job. He then went to Angela Merkel and said he would support Juncker if he achieved flexibility on Italy's debt. Renzi came away from the conference victorious. Here is what Mrs. Merkel said about it: 'flexibility on the fiscal pact does not mean member states get to rewrite the rules.' Only one of these can be right.

François Hollande, who achieved nothing at the summit, announced that he had been speaking for 'the concept of Europe'.

What the others couldn't understand about Cameron is that they expected him to ask (privately, nothing to be said to the press) for some little concession, say, on agriculture. They were astonished when he simply spoke his mind.

People who attack Cameron for not making friends and building coalitions should have been honest about this. The European way is to discover which way the wind is blowing, give in but obtain some minor concession. It is not the British way.

I presume Cameron now realises that there is no hope of reforming the EU. For him it will not be a question of recommending withdrawal: it will be a question of changing a word here, obtaining a trivial concession there and then pulling the wool over the eyes of the British Electorate. Betcha!

Witch Hunt

It seems that the Police's witch hunt of celebrities has turned to the late actor Leonard Rossiter, famous for Reginald Perrin.

Er....Hello? He's dead.

That means natural justice cannot be served here because he is unavailable to answer the charges and defend himself.

Why not drop it, eh?


Everything you need to know about Jean-Claude Juncker

First, the pronunciation: as everyone outside America knows, the first part is not pronounced Gene, but Zhon. Good. The more luxuriance and pursing of the lips, the more it sounds as if you don't approve of foreign names, even for foreigners.

It's the second part that seems to get people, particularly the BBC. They are giving us the anglicised Claud, whereas the approach ought to be coherent, Gene-Claud or Zhon-Clode.

Juncker, more commonly Junker, is an old Northern European honorific for landed gentry.

So J-C's name is roughly the same as J.C.Squire, the 20th century essayist and poet, who was a bit of a boozer.

J-C has been getting a bit of a rough time in the British Press recently. For myself I think Europe is safer in the hands of a man who likes a drop to drink, and I confess I couldn't come up with stuff like 'Europe is a modern, dynamic economy' without a couple of sharpeners after breakfast.

J-C is a fairly common stereotype on the mainland: cutting through all the debate about centralisation, they mistrust the nation state and feel that putting everyone together under the benign governance of people too important to be merely elected is the optimal political system. Of course J-C would be one of these Lords. Of course.

This view, and it is important to recognise that it is widespread, stems in part from World War II and in part from a recognition that the direction of travel (towards a united Europe) would be interrupted if the electorate got grumpy (as now).

Whatever its merits or demerits it is clear that this is not our system.

So rejecting Zhon-Clode was merely picking a fight. Merkel and the rest knew that they could, if necessary, pick someone else with the exact same mindset.

What this episode has shown is that the fundamental point, that Europe should be run by an unelected élite, and that national power should be kept to a minimum, is something they are not going to back down on.

Our choice is simple.

20 June, 2014

England expects

It turns out, and I have this on good authority, that England could stay in the World Cup under certain circumstances, which include Italy winning their next two matches.

Italy's hugely talented forward, Mario Balotelli, says that he can arrange this in return for a kiss from the Queen.

Balotelli does not detail the nature of the kiss, whether a peck on the cheek (Mwah! - ciao Mario) or something altogether more intimate, but surely now, as so often in the past, is the time for Her Majesty to put her country first.

19 June, 2014

Dulce et decorum

The Uruguayan football team, which England is due to meet on our next exciting attempt to return home, has complained that its poor performance against Costa Rica was caused by the Brazilian customs authorities' seizure of its stock of dulce de leche, the milky snack so popular in that part of the world.

The England camp will be hoping the supplies have not been released, confident in the knowledge that if the Brazilian hosts were to impound stocks of British food, our team's performance would likely improve.

The way to make dulce de leche is to put a tin of condensed milk into boiling water for three hours. When you get it out and open it, there will be the caramelised brown gloop these Uruguayans love.

Now, don't blame me if you burn yourself getting the tin out of the water, or if it explodes while boiling, or a stream of hot caramel spurts into your eye as you wield the tin opener. I am still in a body harness from my last kitchen accident.

Still, what would cooking be without a bit of risk?

18 June, 2014

An attack on freedom

In 1961, with the passing of the Suicide Act, it became no longer illegal to kill yourself.

Obviously, if you had succeeded, you would be judged by a higher court, but until then if you botched your attempt at doing yourself in you could be prosecuted.

Naturally you might even now be in breach of some by-law, like jumping off Beachy Head, but in broad terms I am allowed to buy a carving knife (if over 18) and slit my throat, hold a shotgun to my head (if I have a licence for the weapon) and pull the trigger, or jump off the roof of my house.

But I am not allowed to kill myself by going through the windscreen of my car (through not wearing a safety belt) or throwing myself off a motorbike without a helmet.

Why? Don't tell me it is because the NHS has to pay money to treat me if I fail: we don't make it illegal to live in a town (more likely to suffer from respiratory disease), or climb a mountain (risk of falling off) or to be a promiscuous homosexual (more likely to get AIDS). The NHS is an insurance scheme: if you are a cautious healthy individual you pay the same income tax as a heavy drinker or smoker. Why do we single out drivers and bikers?

The fine imposed by this supposedly Conservative vindictive nanny government for not wearing a crash helmet is £2,000. Some MP ought to have the balls to propose the abolition of these 'crimes'.

16 June, 2014


While we are on the subject of Mr. Cameron, it now appears that despite promising to do something about migration to the UK from poorer EU countries, he is going to support the application for membership of - and therefore unfettered immigration from - Albania.

The average wage in Albania is £300 a month, a third of the British minimum wage.

Magna Carta

David Cameron, laughably in my view, has said he wants children to learn about Magna Carta. They will learn that amongst its principles were to outlaw the arbitrary arrest of any British subject and the law of habeas corpus where a subject cannot be imprisoned without charge.

They will find in later life that Cameron was happy with the European Arrest Warrant, where a country - Romania for example - can order the arrest of a British subject for something which is not a crime in the UK. The British police have to arrest the suspect and send him to Romania where he will find there is no habeas corpus and they don't even have trial by jury.

This is only one example of Cameron's hypocrisy. It is not that he is deliberately trying to deceive us to pursue what he believes in, it's that he doesn't believe in anything.

I hope everyone remembers this at the next election.

Iraq - what to do

If you're not a Muslim, ask yourself this: which is better, Shia or Sunni?

The distinction between the two arose from a dispute as to who should succeed the prophet Muhammed after his Death in 632.

In Syria and Iraq, before Western intervention, there existed the strange state of affairs that Syria was a predominantly Sunni country with Shiite rulers (the Assad family) whilst Iraq was a predominantly Shia country with Sunni rulers (Saddam family). I have written before that a great deal of unpleasantness could have been avoided if they had simply swapped leaders.

But no, the West intervened and Iraq elected Mr Al Maliki who was going to be an inclusive figure for all Iraqis but turned out, as son as the troops left, to be simply pro Shia.

So the Sunnis rebelled and some of them crossed over from Syria where they had been fighting Assad.

And now some of our half-witted politicians, and the pseudo-statesman Tony Blair, are bleating that we should intervene. And this is where the question at the start of this post becomes important: on which side? Should we intervene in favour of the Shias, allied with Bashar al-Assad, Russia and Iran, or on the Sunni side alongside the ISIS militants, who were chucked out of Al Qaeda for being too brutal?

The answer is that this being a purely sectarian war we shouldn't intervene at all, but let them get on with it. Tony Blair says that we will suffer terrorism in the future, but we suffered a lot when we intervened in Iraq, because those Islamists who are looking to resurrect the Caliphate felt we had invaded their country. We are not going to get more terrorism by not taking sides.

They will not create a united Muslim caliphate in the middle east because they can't stand each other. Long may it continue.

09 June, 2014


One of the happier tales surrounding the 70th anniversary of D-Day is that when Luxembourg was liberated the cheering people were astonished to see climbing out of the leading tank their own heir to the throne Crown Prince Jean. On escaping to Britain after the Nazi invasion he joined up and as a lieutenant in the Irish Guards had fought his way up from Normandy. He eventually became Colonel in Chief of the regiment.

Bethink you of that, Mr Juncker.

07 June, 2014

Our Shirl

Just check the date before you read this, from a speech by the Education Secretary. It is 2014.

'How can it be right that more than a fifth of children left primary school without having reached a basic level of literacy and numeracy?'

As the men were racing up the Normandy beaches seventy years ago, Parliament passed the 1944 Education Act, supposed to stop this. Seventy years ago. Now we are told we can sort it in another generation.

So, where are the apologies? What about from you, Shirley Williams, educated at elite St. Paul's Girls' School who moved house in order to get her daughter into elite Godolphin & Latymer, but who pushed through Comprehensive Schools and banned grammar schools?

Just a little apology for two generations of children whom we have failed due to your madness and hypocrisy?

06 June, 2014


Speaking of driving, do you wonder what it's like in Google's new driverless car?

Two people sitting side by side talking, perhaps caressing, neither with hands on the steering wheel, while the car careers along?

Come to Italy and see.

Il telefono

I rarely criticise Italy, in part because I like it here and in part because I am a guest, but I have to mention one of the worst characteristics of Italians, worse than their crazy, corrupt political system or their inability to drive cars. It is their attitude to the telephone.

Last night a delivery van came up our drive and the driver got out and hammered on the window. When I opened the front door he was on the telephone. I asked what he wanted and he held up a hand for me to be silent.

I tried again and then shouted that either he could talk to me or the telephone but he carried on. As I was closing the door he said 'Hold on, Giorgio, I've got a problem with a foreigner'. He was carrying a courier's delivery instructions so I snatched them from him and shouted directions (he was still on the 'phone).

In Italy, the person you are talking to on the 'phone is more important than the one you are talking to face to face. I was once in a meeting with some minor government official - I had made an appointment - and his 'phone rang so often (he answered it each time) that I was beginning to forget why I had come. So I 'phoned him.

He was a bit confused hearing my voice so I said we'd leave the line open so we weren't disturbed any more. He looked at me incredulously but it worked.

05 June, 2014

Super Mario?

The European Central Bank's decision to adopt negative interest rates is not the first time this has
happened. In Switzerland in the 1980s it was fairly common in order to stop upward pressure on the Swiss Franc, and it is worth noting that it didn't help much. The markets decided Swiss Francs were the place to be and suffered the cost.

What ECB Governor Mario Draghi has done will have a short term effect of pushing the euro down, but it may be too little and it is quite likely to be too late.

Here is how it would work.

1. A bank, let's say French, keeps money on deposit at the ECB because it is safe there: safer than depositing it with another French bank and a lot safer than lending it to a French company.

2. It either keeps the money at the ECB, wearing the cost, or draws it out.

3. It decides whether to shrink its balance sheet, that is to say repay the corresponding creditor, or lend it to someone else. The other French banks are in the same position, as are most European banks, so it seeks out a company to lend to.

4. The company borrows for a new project, which it is cautious about because Europe is already depressed.

5. It slowly invests and takes on workers.

6. The workers, once they have been employed for a bit, feel confident and spend more.

7. That extra spending generates more investment and the eurozone recovers.

Apart from the fact that in those seven steps a lot can go wrong, it is easily seen that it takes time. The economist's rule of thumb is 6-9 months before industrial activity picks up and a further 6-9 months before prices improve.

Has Draghi left this too late?

03 June, 2014

El Rey

Despite a lot of sniping in the media, I believe Juan Carlos will be remembered fondly by history. He could have allowed military dictatorship to continue in Spain but stuck to his line and ushered the country into the modern era.

Handing over now, however, is something of a hospital pass. Felipe must deal with calls for a Republic and with Catalan (and other) attempts at secession, at a time the people are still suffering from austerity.

Good luck to him.

Crazy prices

The European Commission has warned that house price inflation will damage the UK economy.

They may be right - a broken clock is right twice a day - but it does seem impertinent that people who have made such a mess of the Eurozone economy (the ECB is about to take Emergency measures to avoid the spiral to deflation) should lecture us. The unfortunate folk in Europe would like a bit of house price inflation.

The facts, in case anybody is interested, are that if you bought a house in 2007 it is just now - this month - getting back to the level you paid for it. I don't call that crazy.

Source: Nationwide.co.uk

01 June, 2014

Bad exchange

'No soldier is left behind' intones President Obama as he buys the freedom of an American soldier with the release of Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay.

Laudable, but the fact remains that America has paid, and every terrorist in the world now knows it will pay again. Every potential hostage in extremist areas must be trembling.

The fact also remains that the President can release prisoners, surely making the separation of Executive and Justice a laughing matter.

I congratulate the freed American sergeant and his family, but this is by no means good news.

The devil you know

Most people don't follow the rarified bits of European politics, feeling, correctly in my view, that it will go on in the direction chosen by unelected politicians, whatever the voters might think.

But if you have a modest concern about how your life is being managed by other people, consider this. The European Parliament is the institution which is put forward as being democratic, even though its little rules mean that anyone who is against the whole business is never allowed to speak for more than one minute (sometimes two). The Parliament decided that it wanted a bit of influence over the Head of the Commission, so it introduced the concept of favourites being recommended by the bogus political groupings. These are called Spitzencandidaten, and I hope you have noticed that the language for important things has changed from French to German, whilst everyone actually speaks English to each other.

Anyway, the two Spitzencandidaten put up by the main parties were Martin Schulz, currently leader of the Parliament and a leftish integrationist, and Jean-Claude Juncker, former Luxembourger Prime Minister and a rightish integrationist. No one, it appears, likes Schulz (Berlusconi once said he would be suitable in a film about Nazi Germany as a concentration camp guard) and Mrs Merkel favours Juncker.

To appreciate this you have to try to get into the mindset of these people. They believe in the 'European Project' absolutely and to the exclusion of all else. That is to say they believe that the nation state is an outdated institution and that government, to protect the Union against silliness by the electorate, should be by the people who know how to do it.

Cameron appears on the surface to be cutting up rough. He has said that Juncker is such a federalist that his appointment as Commission President could cause the bringing forward of the British Referendum and an early exit from the EU.

Two other pieces of information I should give you: one is that the Parliament reserved the right itself to elect the Commission President. The other is that Tony Blair said in an interview that he would like to 'help' Europe and is next week making a speech in Germany on how he would like to see Europe in the future. In William Hague's terms he is 'on manoeuvres'.

Is Cameron trying to push Blair into the job? Personally I view the possibility with horror: at least we know what Juncker is about; Blair might believe one thing or another or nothing and still say something different.

Better the devil you know....

27 May, 2014

See what it is yet?

I wonder if it was entirely appropriate for Rolf Harris to perform, at his trial, 'Jake the Peg (with the extra leg)'.


So,did the earth move for you? Earthquake is one of the commoner descriptions of the election results as Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen sweep all before them, but....I'm not so sure. A Euro election is a good time for a protest but that doesn't mean the voter won't return to type, certainly in France. A few years ago the socialist vote collapsed but left-wingers were seen going into the poling booths holding their noses as they voted for Chirac in order to keep out Marine's father, Jean-Marie.

The British voter is a little different. I remember people saying to me that they wouldn't vote for me because I couldn't win. Farage's success this time will make more people think it is OK to vote for him.

But the mainstream politicians are wondering what they should do now. I think it is easy to guess what will happen in Europe: they will ignore the vote, as they always do. They will tell themselves that what the silly little people really meant was that they wanted more Europe.

In the UK there may be some small change. Ed Miliband might now endorse the idea of a referendum, although I think he was Always going to do that anyway. What would be a breakthrough is if Cameron announced that in the event of his renegotiations not working he would campaign to leave. We'll see.

I have a piece in the Commentator about the European results. Read it; it's free.

Still Life

I must say I find it strange that in the 21st century the cure for fractured vertebrae is to lie still in the hope that they heal up. There is apparently an alternative of injecting plastic into the broken bits but that seems unappealing.

Anyone who finds themselves dependent on rolling news broadcasts will immediately notice how they seize on a topic and won't let go, however uninteresting it becomes, like a puppy with an old shoe it has found. One of the worst of these was the Sky News coverage of the Oscar Pretorius trial, a minute-by-minute coverage of tedious legalisms and nothing serious (we know he shot her, the question is why).

Then we had the Ukraine, of course, and Prince Charles saying Putin was behaving like Hitler. Charles was wrong, of course: firstly he should have kept his mouth shut (he surely can't seriously have thought a woman he had just met would respect 'a private conversation'?). He was also wrong in that the crisis was caused by Hermann van Rompuy and Baroness Ashton's naive foreign policy, not by President Putin.

And there was Astra Zeneca. In the first place it would be hard to describe this as a British Company: the great majority of its employees work in other countries, the great majority of its shareholders are foreign institutions, its Chief Executive is French and its Chairman Swedish. Then there is the madness of the Government intervening. I own shares in Astra Zeneca and I don't want the likes of John 'Vince' Cable telling me who I can sell them to. Supposing a Russian oligarch offered you an excellent price for your house, and then this whining ballroom dancer appears and says you can't sell to him because he may be horrid. B****r off!, is what I say.

Then there were the elections....

14 May, 2014

High score

My latest kitchen accident was higher scoring than I thought: 2 fractured vertebrae and I must lie still for a bit.

I am resolving for a life on takeaways but the kitchen bug will probably get me again. Hey-ho

10 May, 2014

This time?

It is the Eurovision song contest again (Hurray!) and this year rather than offering a 1960s loser Britain's candidate will be Molly Smitten-Downes, who must have had a tough time at school with a name like that.

To save you having to watch the whole affair, here it is.

Still, I expect she's a nice girl underneath all that cliché

Our boys

There are outraged reports in today's press that British soldiers have been photographed next to dead Taliban in Afghanistan.

I don't know who the Left think we are sending out to Afghanistan - perhaps they imagine it was an army of Guardian reading social workers. In fact it was thousands of tough young lads, whom our schools system has largely neglected, who are trained for fighting and told that their job is to kill Her Majesty's enemies.

If we don't want this type of person representing Britain abroad, we shouldn't send them.

The r-word

One of the silliest pieces of news has been the story of Jeremy Clarkson and the n-word. Incidentally, don't you find this terminology daft? I first heard it from George H Bush (Bush père) referring to the F-word. It doesn't seem to convey meaning in a straightforward way.

Anyway, Clarkson previously had referred to an Asian gentleman as a 'slope' (the s-word, or perhaps one of the s-words, this is difficult). For myself I shouldn't have known this was slang for an Easterner had not some daft woman threatened to sue.

Now, apparently in an out-take, Clarkson recited the Eeny.meeny-miny-mo tag, mumbling the n-word, but this was not enough. So he's a racist.

Surely this is pretty low-level offensive, indeed not much more than silly. Why didn't the BBC edit it out?

Contrary to newspaper reports, the BBC will not fire Clarkson. The reason is that the licence fee goes towards making the programmes. There is some other income from sale of material, much of which is provided by Clarkson, and this pays for the chauffeur driven cars and decent lunches of the executives. There would be uproar, not just among the general public, if they got rid of him.

I am just wondering if our problem isn't over-use of the n-word, but of the r-word?

The Master

I generally regard myself as a modest type, but on one issue I will brook no dissent. When it comes to kitchen accidents no one comes close.

Over the years I have suffered sprains, bruises, dropped stuff on my feet, got hot oil, water or fat in most anatomical locations and of course got burns everywhere. My culinary career has been tantamount to self-harm.

My latest contribution was to put a pan of hot oil on the cooker such that it could not balance. As I noticed it falling towards me, with great presence of mind I leaped backwards. During this manoeuvre a shoe came off, I slipped and lost my footing and landed heavily on the terracotta floor on my backside, sliding along until my head struck a solid chestnut door.

Don't try this at home, children.

In over a week of enforced misery, lying on my front, under heavy medication, I have absorbed the news stories without being able to comment or even, as is my usual practice, throw things at the television.

I am now heading for the land of the living, if not for civility. 

01 May, 2014

The LoUC

Interesting news for fans of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Europe doesn't allow the death penalty, but is good at making the drugs to execute criminals in America.

Europe banned the export of these drugs, because of the use the Americans were putting them to.

Since the Americans have had to find other drugs, the average execution has taken a lot longer, perhaps 20 minutes more, and, as we saw in Oklahoma the other day, the prisoner can die in pain.

What is the answer to this (other than the USA banning the Death penalty, which is unlikely)?

It is for an American company to buy the companies which make the drugs, then manufacture them in the USA. Obama should tell Pfizer to add them to its shopping list.

28 April, 2014

More racism

The media have not been shy of telling us that the UK Independence Party has had a bad week, being referred to everywhere now as 'racist'.

UKIP promptly went on to top the opinion polls, being now expected to come first in the European Elections.

They must be doing something right, mustn't they?

I sometimes wonder how it would be if the whole country, other than a few bien pensant lefties in London, turned out to be, in their terms, 'racist'. It reminds me of that East German politician who said 'the people have lost the trust of the state'. These people would be writing their bilious articles and displaying their high blood pressure on television while the rest of us ignored them and got on with being utterly horrid, in our own way.

There would be two separate realities, one for the media classes and one for the rest of us. Indeed, perhaps it is already like that.

Quite interesting.

27 April, 2014

The men in charge

I often think back to the time the Glazer family bought Manchester United. Hundreds of supporters paraded at the stadium with banners saying 'Manchester United is not for sale'.

But of course it was: it was quoted on the stock Exchange which is an invitation to buy or sell the shares.

Now they are getting a new manager. The media have been having earnest discussions with former players and heads of fan clubs 'So, Jim, the man the fans want is....'

Of course it is completely irrelevant who the fans want. Manchester wanted to hold on to the previous manager until they had confirmed a replacement but the Stock Exchange rules didn't allow this: if there are rumours circulating you have to deal with them publicly.

Equally, the reason the interim manager and former player, Ryan Giggs, won't get the job is that the investors probably haven't heard of him as a manager. They will require someone who has managed a team to win international tournaments.

All the fans are required to do is traipse through the gate every Saturday and buy the shirts.


Chung Hong-won, Prime Minister of S. Korea, has resigned over the ferry disaster.

He was not captain of the ship, he did not write the rules for conduct of a ship in open waters, it was not he who failed to give the order to abandon the vessel.

But it was indeed a disaster, he was the man at the top, and he has quit, like a gentleman. He bowed to the people he served.

I do hope some British and European politicians have been following this story.

26 April, 2014

Ukraine; the next step

I hesitate to re-enter the debate on the Ukraine. A dismal story in European statecraft has been mishandled at every step, such that it is hard to see an end to it.

Let me explain, however, how there could be an end.

As I have pointed out, Russian aggression was the likely outcome of Europe's wooing of Ukraine. A child could have seen that. Putin carefully cultivates his image as a tough guy, but it is not purely for his image. If the former Soviet states on the periphery of Russia know that he means business they won't step out of line. He has to be able to rattle his sabre at America and Europe.

So instead of more sanctions, which will not harm America but which will do lasting damage to Europe, let Putin win something. Back down a bit, concede a little so he has something to show for it all: not just the man who lost Western Ukraine but the man who stood up to the West.

That way there is a chance of peace.

22 April, 2014


Yesterday, had it not been Easter Monday, and had I not been out for a long lunch with friends, I should have been celebrating the 2,767th birthday of Italy's capital city, said by legend to have been founded on 21st April, 753BC.

Still a great place.

Right and Wrong

I have probably mentioned that I knew the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, in a previous life and think very highly of him.

I cannot, however, leave unchallenged the tripe he has spouted about homosexuality in the Daily Telegraph (is this the only newspaper which covers religious matters?). He says, and I paraphrase, that much as he would like to recognise gay marriage he can't because the Africans wouldn't like it.

Sorry, Justin, but we expect you to know. The reason people have been leaving the Church of England in hordes over the past few decades is that it doesn't appear to believe in anything. For those of us who drift in and out of religion, and it is most of us, it is like going for a swim from a ship with a loose anchor: you never know where it will be when you want to get back on.

The job of the Archbishop of Canterbury is to know whether, in the sight of God, gay marriage is acceptable or unacceptable. If acceptable it would be quite wrong to deny homosexuals marriage in Church, ie in the sight of God.

If he thinks homosexual marriage is the right thing then, it being an important topic, he should advise those who refuse it that they are leaving the Church.

If it is wrong, he should be prepared to upset the liberals and say it is wrong, or leave his job if he can't.

If he blubbers that he thinks it is OK but that some others don't, people will think him soaking wet and ignore everything else he says.

People are entitled to be told by the Church what is right and what is wrong, and entitled to a Church which commits itself to these principles.

Get a grip, Justin!


It seems that fifty-five people have signed a letter to the Daily Telegraph complaining about David Cameron's statement that Britain is a Christian country.

They are incorrect.

Most countries - America and France are the best known for this - have in their constitution provision for the separation of Church and state. Nothing wrong with that, it's just that it isn't the case in Britain. The Head of State is head of the Church, Christian bishops, but no Buddhists, Muslims, Jews or Jainists, sit as of right in the upper house.

Unlike most countries but like, say, Pakistan or Israel, Britain has an established religion, and this is not dependent on the number of people in Church on  any given day.

Where we differ from so many other countries with established religions is that we welcome people of other faiths and protect their rights. This doesn't mean Britain has changed religion. It hasn't.