19 September, 2014

Scotland: the fallout

The Scots have voted and the nonsense level has reached what surely must be its peak.

The Spectator (and many others): 'we are in danger of dissolving the most successful political union in history.' No, think America, think Germany, think Switzerland. If ours was so successful 45% of one of its constituent parts wouldn't have voted to leave.

Cameron: 'the Scots have voted for a new constitutional settlement'. No, Davy, they voted to stay in the UK, the old settlement. Other leaders tried the same sort of tosh, aimed to cover up their spectacular own goal during the campaign.

Now the vote is over, Britain finds itself not at ease with itself, but in a rather difficult predicament. No one who knows the man will be surprised that the source of its predicament is Gordon Brown, disgraced former Prime Minister and the man with the anti-Midas touch.

Towards the end of the campaign, when people thought the Yes vote might win, Brown announced that he had been having a chat with some of his constituents (he didn't name them and we can be sure this was a lie) and there was support for a new constitutional settlement. The three party leaders in Britain all gave it their full support. It involves what is called devo-more. At the start of the campaign we could have got away with devo-lite, a modest amount of devolution if the Scots stayed in, then the price went up to devo-max and now it's even worse than that.

The three leaders and Mr Catastrophe had no right to offer what they did - the way we do constitutional change in Britain is through a vote in both houses of parliament then approval by the Queen - and now we are in the do-do.

The Scots can fairly say (even if it's not true) that they voted 'No' because of this offer. They will insist on it being fulfilled. But parliament won't approve it without equally generous terms for England. Of course that scuppers the timetable: it's going to take at least two years, whereas Catastrophe promised it for Burns' Night (25th January).

But if this looked like a bad night for Alex Salmond and David Cameron, think how Ed Miliband must be feeling. When Parliament insists on only English MPs voting on purely English matters, he is going to find that every time Cameron wants something done he just needs to say it's an English matter and he will have a majority. Miliband is frantically backtracking, but his Agreement to Catastrophe's plans have effectively meant the end of the Labour Party for the near future.

And while we are on the subject of who has done well or badly, has anyone in Britain come out of this feeling that our politicians and our media are fit for purpose?

I don't think so.

We have a long and difficult time ahead. The people don't like not knowing where they stand.

18 September, 2014

Our NHS

David Prior, head of the Care Quality Commission, says that up to 10,000 people a year die because of poor NHS care.

Ten  thousand  people  per  year.

At the same time we see that staying with an unreformed NHS is the principal issue in the Scottish Referendum campaign. The Yes side are concerned that the evil English might allow private money and private health standards to contaminate the service they are getting.

I should have thought one of the main benefits of Independence would be that you didn't have to have the NHS.

17 September, 2014

Still going

A week away and I return to find the Scottish referendum debate still going on. I wonder that anyone has anything new to say, although I suppose Gordon Brown's promise to have more devolution if they say no, hastily backed up by the party leaders, is new. It is new constitutionally, that a former (disgraced) prime minister could start making promises on a constitutional settlement without reference to parliament.

Anyway, it's nearly over.

One interesting point: I saw that Bob Geldof had addressed a 'No' rally. Geldof is Irish. Is he saying that he thinks being a part of the UK is so wonderful that he'd like it for his country?

Reversing the 1922 constitutional settlement would be a change indeed.

07 September, 2014

The Great Negotiator

Finally, as many commentators (not me) foresaw, the polls show that Scotland's Independence vote is in the lead.

If the UK breaks up - indeed whether it does or not - we are going to have to have a look at how we got into this mess.

Scotland voted for an SNP majority, and the SNP leader, Alex Salmond, came down to London and demanded an Independence referendum. He must have been staggered when he got it. Any normal Prime Minister would have said 'OK, you set out how it would be like, Independence, and we'll set out how we think it would be like. After that we'll start talking about referenda.'

But Cameron, who wants to be seen as a modern, all-inclusive sort of moderator, rather than leader, rolled over immediately.

Then the question. Again, any normal leader would have devised it as 'Would you like Version A (complete independence) or Version B (some sort of independence light)?'. But Salmond saw the danger of this and insisted on a straight 'in or out'. Again Cameron rolled over.

The problem is that this is the man we've got negotiating for us over whether we stay in Europe. I suppose it's possible that Cameron wants Scotland to leave (his Labour opponents would lose a lot of MPs at Westminster), and that he wants Britain to leave Europe. But I don't think so. I think he's just a weak negotiator.

This is quite worrying.

04 September, 2014

All you need to know

On Monday, the most searched for internet items in the USA were the nude photographs of celebrities which had been hacked from Apple.

In Britain it was news of football transfers.

01 September, 2014

The Commentator

See my piece covering the appointment of a new EU Foreign Minister in The Commentator. It's free.

30 August, 2014

Equality

Apparently someone has hit the MP George Galloway, breaking his jaw and damaging his ribs. Stop laughing at the back there, this is serious.

A man has been detained by police.

I assume that the events which follow will be the same as they would be if a pro-Israeli MP had made a vehement and intemperate attack on Hamas and had been assaulted by a Muslim.

27 August, 2014

Explain please

You may have heard the appalling news that in Rotherham, northern England, some 1,400 children have been raped and abused over a period of several years.

The independent report into the matter said that no one on the council could claim ignorance over what had been going on. Yet only one has resigned.

One said that the workers on the case were 'waiting for guidance'. I don't know what guidance you need if you find out children have been systematically raped.

The truth of the matter is this: with a couple of exceptions all the attackers were Pakistani Muslims, and with a couple of exceptions all the victims were ethnically British (white). I know this sort of discussion is difficult for some people but it has to come out for it to be properly investigated. Why did the Pakistanis want to destroy the lives of white children but not those of their own ethnicity? We have to know the answer to this.

And this was their defensive shield: the council, the social services, the police did not prosecute them, because they were Asian muslims.

And we need to ask this: what is it with the Labour Party (for they were all Labour, bien sur) and child rape? Not long ago we had the story of Harriet Harman, currently deputy leader of the Labour Party and Patricia Hewitt, a former front bencher, back in the days when they were at the National Council for Civil Liberties. They were using taxpayers' money to help the Paedophile Information Exchange on the grounds that being a paedophile was a valid lifestyle choice.

Now Labour permit it to go on, the rape of children for God's sake, on the grounds that to make a fuss might seem racist.

Can we have an explanation, please?

Surely..

The head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, is under formal investigation in France for misuse of her position (Finance Minister) by 'resolving' a dispute in favour of a friend of her boss, Nicolas Sarkozy, costing the French taxpayer hundreds of millions.

Of course she will resign her post while she clears her name.... er....no?

23 August, 2014

Space Shuffle

Imagine you are a bank manager and someone wants you to invest a huge sum of money in his new factory.

What does it make? Clothes pegs.

A new design of clothes peg? No, same as the old one.

Er....a cheaper clothes peg? Nope. They cost very little as it is, these will be a fair bit more expensive.

So the world is well served for cheap clothes pegs. What is the point of this new one? He just wanted his own clothes peg factory.

Some years ago the American military developed a mapping system which can position an object within... well it's probably a millimetre by now. And they offered this system - not quite as good as the military's but down to a metre - free. You pay nothing for satnav, it's a gift. You just pay for the gizmo which works it.

So what did Europe do? Started their own of course (they're bureaucrats, not bank managers). Firstly with the Chinese, then when the Chinese got tired with the indecision and bureaucracy and developed one on their own, they continued alone. It has cost billions - we'll probably never discover quite how much - of our money.

Yesterday the satellite launched - years late and massively over budget - and went into the wrong orbit.

Now there will be more money wasted, to obtain something that is already free.

Admit it!

The global warming loonies at the BBC have reluctantly come up with another change to the certainty they have been espousing.

Scientists now believe that the global warming 'pause' will continue for another ten years. What they mean by 'pause' is that they will not permit any suggestion that temperatures are not going up (that would be DENIAL), only that they will be going up soon, not right now.

So: they tell us that rising carbon dioxide emissions cause the temperature to rise, then at a time when carbon dioxide levels have been rising, there is no rise in temperature. There has been no rise since 1998 and now it looks as if it will be 2025 before you get any warmer.

I want to stress I am not a climate change denier, I am a sceptic. I would be less sceptical if they could explain why temperatures aren't rising when they said they would. But they can't explain it. According to the BBC there are ten theories as to why temperatures aren't rising. Actually there are eleven, the final one being that they were talking cock in the first place.

Incidentally, for those of you sitting in terror that temperatures may rise 0.15degC over a decade, here in Italy it is usually 5C warmer than Britain and often 10C warmer. And we don't have raging tsunamis and arid deserts; it's quite nice, really. You can grow potatoes as well as aubergines and peppers, wine and olives and in spring there are lambs bouncing around on the grass.

I just want an apology from Prince Charles, George Monbiot and the other fools who have been promoting this story, then an admission from the scientists that they haven't a clue what is going on.

After that I might listen.

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
Kurds!

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

Lords

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.

Europe

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

Commentator

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

Rome


 
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

Unanimity

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

Beliefs

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

Europe

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

Cheating

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

Grubby

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?

EYNTKA...

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

Albania

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

Luxembourg

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

Driverless


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