31 December, 2009

A cautious Happy New Year from Nanny

Thus speaks the Times this morning: 'Partygoers are being advised to celebrate with a little less than wild abandon tonight as sub-zero temperatures are expected across Britain.

Police chiefs....urged revellers to wrap up warm, but to keep a cool head. People should plan their route home before they start drinking, and be prepared for sleet and snow, they said.'

For me this merely sums up this sorry decade. The country is a shambles, morale is at rock bottom and then the State tells us how to celebrate.

The advice from this blog is to celebrate in whatever fashion you see fit. Get drunk, if you like.

Happy New Year

25 December, 2009

Christmas Day

This is a period of the year when I am usually staggered how I got through the last 12 months without losing what is left of my sanity, and when I am filled with optimism for the year to come. This week, start of the Christian year, as well as of the calendar year, is a little oasis of calm when you can think the best about life.

Doesn't last, of course.

We finish 2009 poorer, less healthy and last week had a burst pipe, an earthquake and the car nicked.

Over the next week I shall be making some slightly over-optimistic forecasts for the year ahead and in the meantime wish everyone all the best for 2010.

24 December, 2009

Iraq: the Chilcot stitch up

Well, we wondered where the stitch-up would come. Every investigation into the Iraq war has been a fiddle in one way or another. Now the Chilcot inquiry has said that Gordon Brown won't need to give evidence until after the election, on the grounds that 'the committee is determined to remain firmly outsde party politics'.


If the top people in one political party adopt a course of action with the British Armed Forces (imagine for a second that Mrs Thatcher had decided to invade China) it is of course a matter for politics. No one authorised Sir John Chilcot to decide the terms of the parliamentary election. Iraq may be the most important aspect for some people and the least important for others but it is wholly corrupt (and as soon as this inquiry was announced I knew I would have to use that word before long) to deprive the electorate of information crucial to its deciding on the suitablility of the Prime Minister to hold down his job. If Brown has nothing to hide he should offer to give evidence now.

I see the hands of Campbell and Mandelson in this and it stinks.

21 December, 2009

Philosophy on one leg

A quote I heard years ago but had forgotten, repeated by the excellent Mary Ellen Synon in the Mail. The capitalist philosopher Ayn Rand is making a pitch to a publisher who can't quite follow it. He told her to explain her philosophy standing on one leg (on the grounds that if you can't explain it in the time you can stand on one leg you don't understand it yourself).

Balanced on one high heeled shoe she says 'My metaphysics, objective reality. My epistemology, reason. My ethics, self-interest. My politics, capitalism.'

She got the book deal.

Love it.

20 December, 2009

The Weather

Nothing quite like a rap on the knuckles from Mother Nature to put us in our place. It snowed at Copenhagen, it's snowing all over Italy and Spain and the East coast of America. It turns out that it was too cold for the electric trains which go through the channel tunnel. Being stuck for hours under the ocean with no light or water must be a fairly shocking experience. Being told we have to do something about warming must make it into a farce. Flights were no better - my other half's flight from Heathrow to Rome was delayed seven hours.

In the interests of rational debate I must mention that this bitterly cold snap doesn't mean that the case for anthropogenic global warming has failed. What it does mean is that it is going to be a little more difficult to persuade the public. They will not have been impressed hearing Ed Milliband describe people who disagreed with him on climate change as 'saboteurs', or Gordon Brown describing them as 'flat earthers'. Our leaders must get less hysterical, acknowledge their mistakes, accept that a majority of the public think they may be wrong, and try to persuade them.

We will not accept the massive sacrifices envisaged (but not agreed) at Copenhagen unless we are sure. Representatives of the people, like Mr. Milliband, unless they can persuade us of their case, must be just that: representative.
PS It's Ed Milliband's 40th birthday on Christmas Eve. Send him a couple of ice cubes - they probably won't melt in the post.

19 December, 2009

Saab - victim of its times

So it's going. The last of the tentative offers for SAAB, the Swedish car company, has fizzled out and it will be put into liquidation.

The thing about SAABs was that they were oddball. The early ones had two stroke engines, when nobody else was doing that. The cars won rallies with three cylinder engined vehicles which had peculiar shapes: SAAB was the first company to concentrate on aerodynamics and in the sixties was producing cars of a sufficiently low aerodynamic coefficient even for today's market.

Many people remember the SAAB 99 manufactured from the sixties to the mid eighties. SAAB for a while in those days was the only manufacturer using turbochargers, now common across all ranges of car. And finally SAAB was the first to offer a range of safety features. The cars felt safe and solid.

And they were odd: from the floor based ignition key which you couldn't get out unless the handbrake was on, to the company's ignoring of 0-60 times, then an obsession among car manufacturers, on the grounds that the customers weren't really interested, they were more concerned about mid-range acceleration, overtaking.

Then in 1989 General Motors took over. SAAB was a victim of its times because it was cheaper for GM to buy a going concern than to expand its market organically. Inevitably the cars, now Opel Vectras with a different badge, became less quirky, less interesting. GM was only interested in selling Vectra platforms; it never made a success of the operation and now it is dead.

I've driven a few SAABs and can't help regretting the passing of perhaps the last interesting car make. But I suppose it couldn't have continued. Hey-ho.

18 December, 2009

Copenhagen madness

Gordon Brown, desperate to look like a world saviour (there's an election coming up) has promised a 42% reduction in Britain's carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 (a massive increase from the current 20% target). Here's what the Taxpayer's Alliance calculates:

'To meet a 42 per cent target at the present rate of improvements in emissions intensity, the size of the economy in 2020 would need to be cut by 30 per cent from expected levels, or nearly £507 billion (2005 prices).'

£507 billion! Of course Brown knows it is unlikely to be him who has to find the money. This is a political scorched earth policy. Brown is mortgaging our children's and grandchildren's inheritance to try to make himself look good.

17 December, 2009

Museum charges

The AdamSmith Institute blog has a good post here about our museums.

I'm tired of the people who say our museums and galleries should be free. Of course, the upkeep and insurance of museums is not free; what the well meaning chattering classes are saying is that the entrance for tourists from China, Russia etc should be free, while the poor suffering British taxpayer pays.

Do you live in Cornwall, Anglesea, northern Scotland? The fare to see the National Gallery will be over £100 but then you'll have to spend the night in a London hotel because it's too far to get back. AND you pay. We are increasing the taxes on people earning even less than the average wage.

Charge a modest fee is my view, and consider a British Card (not a compulsory ID card) to make it free for us. British museums and galleries cost half a billion pounds per year to keep up and we can't afford it.

Homosexuality: on we go

If I had to name one expression from the last decade which fills me with loathing, it is 'Have your say'. It seems to express entitlement, rather than a contribution to a debate being assessed on merit, and thereby devalues it. Anyway, the BBC World Service seems to have such a problem with it, having produced a 'message board' entitled 'Have your say. Should homosexuals face execution?'. Pretty racy, I thought.

As you can imagine all the usual representatives from the Equality Industry wanted to have their say, although not actually on the forum. Everywhere else.

In fact the question was put because the Ugandan Parliament is debating just such a measure (although the measure does not propose a broad application of the death penalty, only when the victim is a minor, or the aggressor is a serial offender or has HIV. A bit of consensual bonking and you would be let off with life imprisonment).

Eric Joyce, a Labour MP, says it is 'completely unacceptable'. I presume he would prefer to ban debate over Uganda's proposed law. For myself I think it quite right that the World Service, pretty well the only part of the BBC not run by climate change cranks, lefties and politically correct minority advisers, should air a decent debate about what is going on under our noses. The problem, as Mr Joyce observed, was that a large number of posts in favour of the propositions were from people in England.

Nevertheless, the Western Consensus and in particular the Anglican Church, are going to have to take notice of the wide hostility in many parts of Africa to homosexuality. Africans will soon make up the majority of Anglicanism and now that as a faith it is run on democratic lines by the Synod, they are in for a few tricky surprises. I remember at the last Bishops' Conference a West African bishop rounded on a reporter who had asked some right-on question and shouted 'You don't understand, homosexuality is a sin against God'.

At one stage or another all this is going to have to be dealt with, so if you think we should talk openly, and think Mr Joyce is wrong to try to sweep the matter under the carpet, Have Your Say.

14 December, 2009

Our leaders: Danny the Red

Lucky to have them, I sometimes say, because the theatre of the absurd has always appealed. I also often say that a society gets the leaders it deserves. There can be no better embarcation on the voyage of understanding our politics than an examination of whom we have selected to lead us. The first in an occasional series.

Daniel Cohn Bendit was a soixante-huitard, a leader of the French student unrest in May 1968, while De Gaulle was still in power. He became known as Danny the Red. After Les Evenements of '68 Danny went to Germany and worked in the Karl Marx Bookstore in Frankfurt, forming a group to harness students to a variety of causes he supported. The group, RK (Revolutionary Struggle) was linked to terrorism. Joscha Fischer, former German Vice Chancellor, was also involved.

In 1994 he became an Alliance Green Party MEP (this was a merger with the German Socialists. There should and will be a study one day of how and why the Green movement was formed by the ultra left after Communism died). He is now a senior member of the European Parliament, sitting on a number of committees, including defence!

In 2003 Frankfurt prosecutors asked the European Parliament to lift the immunity from prosecution DCB had for being an MEP (Oh yes, it's criminal when Berlusconi wants it, but normal for an MEP) due to his involvement with known terrorist Hans Joachim Klein, but the parliament declined.

In 2001 he was investigated for paedophilia, having seemingly admitted it in writing from the time he was a teacher in the 1970s.

Lately he has criticised the Swiss constitutional change to ban further building of minarets. In an interview with Le Monde he says (my translation) 'The democratic limit has in my view been crossed. I am in favour of a direct democracy in the context of a constitution which does not let you vote on just anything'. He wants the Swiss to be told to vote again (well, it worked in Denmark and Ireland)

Oh brave new world, that hath such people in it

The Berlusconi attack

The ANSA news agency reports that if you search Facebook for Berlusconi and for Massimo Tartaglia (his assailant) you will get almost equal numbers believing that one man or the other should be canonised. Berlusconi polarises opinion in that way.

For the average Italian there is, I believe, another aspect. They have experienced the 70s and 80s where politics was tinged with violence. More than anything else the emotion they experience when thinking about those times is shame. Italians are very conscious of what others think about their country. The arrival of Berlusconi on the political scene was intended to mark the end of that post war era of corruption, violence and venality.

Now they fear this might mark a return to those days. As the unruly element gatecrashed his party meeting Berlusconi was shouting 'Vergognatevi' - you should be ashamed.

Rightly or wrongly this may well turn out to be an electoral advantage for Berlusconi. Bravely, after the attack, he stood on the sill of his car to show his supporters he was all right. Now the other leaders have been forced to condemn the attack, showing solidarity with the Prime Minister. They could hardly do otherwise.

Berlusca will be out for 3 weeks having a nose job and there will be plenty of plotting behind the scenes during that time, not least by the great man himself.

12 December, 2009

Iraq: the case for war

Tony Blair has finally stated that even if there had been no probability of weapons of mass destruction he would have gone to war with Iraq. He felt that for the stability of the region Saddam had to be removed.

I remember at the time of the first Gulf War asking some gung-ho individual what we were fighting for. 'Democracy', he replied. I said that in that case we were fighting on the wrong side because Saddam had at least been elected, whereas the al-Sabah family in Kuwait had not. Incidentally they made a lot of promises at the time and I don't remember any of them being fulfilled.

I think it is worthwhile recording that a number of the present cabinet, including the Prime Minister Gordon Brown, went along with this. They felt that if the leader of a country was beyond the pale and if it were a threat to other countries, then regime change should be our policy.

Perhaps they could now tell us why we haven't invaded Zimbabwe or Burma, and what they think Iraq was guilty of that China wasn't (including obtaining weapons of mass destruction).

A moral case is a moral case, whoever is guilty. If we corrupt morality with realpolitik it ceases to be moral.

10 December, 2009

EU on strike! Disaster!

Le Monde reports that in the make believe world that is Brussels the civil servants are going on strike for a 3.7% pay rise (well above inflation).

Many member states want to stop this for, I think, fairly obvious reasons.

It will be interesting to see how much we all suffer when these people are..er..not working.

09 December, 2009

Copenhagen 2

Now that the Copenhagen charade has begun, I can reveal that the Lady Mayor, Ritt Bjerregaard (Ritt would appear to be a girl's name) has written postcards to the city's hotels warning them not to introduce prostitutes to conference guests. 'Be sustainable, don't buy sex', she writes, without explaining the connection between sustaining and abstaining.

In return the hookers' union, the Sex Workers Interest Group, has offered a free ride to anyone who can produce one of the offending cards.

Be warned: the private sector cannot be bullied out of business.

07 December, 2009

Copenhagen: saving the planet

From the Daily Telegraph:

'On a normal day, Majken Friss Jorgensen, managing director of Copenhagen's biggest limousine company, says her firm has twelve vehicles on the road. During the "summit to save the world", which opens here tomorrow, she will have 200.

"We thought they were not going to have many cars, due to it being a climate convention," she says. "But it seems that somebody last week looked at the weather report."

Ms Jorgensen reckons that between her and her rivals the total number of limos in Copenhagen next week has already broken the 1,200 barrier. The French alone rang up on Thursday and ordered another 42. "We haven't got enough limos in the country to fulfil the demand," she says. "We're having to drive them in hundreds of miles from Germany and Sweden."

And the total number of electric cars or hybrids among that number? "Five," says Ms Jorgensen. "The government has some alternative fuel cars but the rest will be petrol or diesel. We don't have any hybrids in Denmark, unfortunately, due to the extreme taxes on those cars. It makes no sense at all, but it's very Danish."

The airport says it is expecting up to 140 extra private jets during the peak period alone, so far over its capacity that the planes will have to fly off to regional airports – or to Sweden – to park, returning to Copenhagen to pick up their VIP passengers.

As well 15,000 delegates and officials, 5,000 journalists and 98 world leaders, the Danish capital will be blessed by the presence of Leonardo DiCaprio, Daryl Hannah, Helena Christensen, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Prince Charles. A Republican US senator, Jim Inhofe, is jetting in at the head of an anti-climate-change "Truth Squad." The top hotels – all fully booked at £650 a night – are readying their Climate Convention menus of (no doubt sustainable) scallops, foie gras and sculpted caviar wedges.

Thailand: Samak dies

This blog mourns the death of Samak Sundaravej, one time Thai Prime Minister and celebrity chef. Cooking (his favourite dish was pork legs with coca cola) caused both his rise and his fall. He could not have become Prime Minister without his celebrity status, and in the end he was hounded from office for receiving money from his cookery show while Prime Minister.

I was going to say that we shan't see his like again, but I very much hope we do.

05 December, 2009

The World Cup: it has started

The World Cup Football (soccer) tournament does not begin until June but like the commercial institution of Christmas has been started artificially early. Six months early, for last night was the draw to decide who plays whom, when and where.

Similar in style to an Italian game show, there was a celebrity (David Beckham) a pretty girl and a Frenchman (how is it they always seem to get involved?) with a microphone attached to his ear, doing nothing for the supposed independence of the draw. The girl called out numbers, the wired grenouille something unintelligible. Somosas! (why is it when we can’t understand a Frenchman we assume he is talking about food?) And there was another little chap running around with rolled pieces of paper like you find in Christmas crackers. So the long evening wore on. ‘Six two’ said the lovely. ‘Petits Pois’ cries the froggy.

As a televisual spectacle this was buttock clenchingly awful, trying to manufacture excitement where there could be none – we might have simply read about it in the morning papers.

There again, this is not about sport.

Kercher: a verdict

Amanda Knox and her boyfriend Rafaele Sollecito have been found guilty of the murder of Meredith Kercher and many will be grateful that what was closer to a Reality Show than the exercise of justice is now over.

But it won't be. There will be analysis, summary and, above all, appeals. This is just the end of the beginning.

04 December, 2009

Steel: Emma and the slab

1,700 jobs are to go on Teesside as Corus, the rump of British Steel now owned by the Indian group Tata (which also owns Jaguar and Land Rover), mothballs its plant.

Corus Europe chief Kirby Adams said that the loss of jobs was entirely attributable to a consortium of international companies pulling out of a ten year contract. The contract had been to supply slab steel at cost, and for four years, while prices were higher than cost, they profited. When the equation turned the other way, they pulled out.

All this raises a number of questions: why is the UK involved in what would appear to be low-tech steel manufacturing when its skill is in high-tech? Why wasn't the contract watertight? Why were they going for sales at cost rather than at a profit? If it wasn't profitable why do it? The answers may well come out in the next few days. In the meantime we can consider this: the leader of the consortium which pulled out was Marcegaglia Industries, run by Emma Marcegaglia who is also the President of the Italian Confederation of Industry.

I shall return to this as I learn more.

03 December, 2009

Switzerland: leading the fight, or fascist?

The international hoo-ha about the Swiss banning minarets seems to have had a number of interesting results. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister, says the decision reflects an upsurge in fascism in Europe (but then again he would, having been repeatedly snubbed in his attempts to get Turkey into the EU, something we shall come to regret, I think). Germany’s tabloid paper Bild says that Germans would have voted the same, and right wing politicians in Italy, France and Holland have said they will also press for a referendum in their countries.

For myself I do not agree with the proposal put to the Swiss electorate that the minaret is a symbol of Islam’s attempt to conquer the world. I do believe, though, that it is a symbol of a refusal to integrate. I believe the Swiss have restated their desire to be multiethnic but monocultural and in this I support them. If the call to prayer is important, and I can see that it is, it can be done by telephone or text.

What also comes out of this strongly is the Swiss independence of spirit. The proposal was condemned by the government and also by both sides of parliament and yet they went ahead with it. It makes you wish that the UK and other countries had such a system (they also voted in a couple of referendums not to be a part of the EU).

Demjanjuk: the war returns to haunt us

Mr. John Demjanjuk has a temperature. And a headache, too, I shouldn’t wonder. Of course names come in and out of the press but his seems to have held our attention for a long time. It is because this is the second bite of the cherry. In the 1980s he was convicted of being ‘Ivan the Terrible’ at Treblinka camp and sentenced to death in Israel, until the Israeli Supreme Court deemed the sentence unjust (they had discovered it was someone else). He was released and sent back to America, which has now answered an extradition request (more quickly than they ever did for IRA suspects!) and sent him to Germany, where he is accused of being a guard at the Sobibor death camp. And now his lawyers say he can’t stand trial because he is ill. He is 89 Years old.

Demjanjuk, if the prosecution is to be believed, was born in the Ukraine in 1920 and served in the Red Army until he was captured by the Germans in 1942, was enlisted into the SS Foreigners unit and sent to Sobibor. I must say I am torn about this trial. There is the technical issue of trying such a man – nobody could recognise in the comfortably framed retired Cleveland car worker the strained, fanatic stare of Demjanjuk’s wartime ID. There is the aspect of his being tried in Germany (the country, you will remember, where the holocaust was planned) when he isn’t German and they can’t prove he killed any German citizens. And in any case, having been in the world’s newspapers as a convicted wartime criminal, the average juror is going to find it hard to put that out of his head. Are we putting him through the trial even though we don’t believe he can be convicted? That would be wrong – imagine it was you and they had incorrectly identified you.

Then again I think we hear too much of the war, seventy years after it started, and that it is unhealthy. Do we want not just the generation born after the war but the generation after that to be defined by its horrors? Shouldn’t we instead try to draw a line under it? And shouldn’t that line have been fifty years after its end?

Lastly, he can claim that he was forced into it: that if he had not pushed Jews into the gas chambers he would have been killed himself. This is a moral dilemma few are made to face in these happier days. Should he have refused the work and stepped right in there with them, or maybe faced some other even less humane penalty from the SS? What would you have done?

But lastly, unfortunately, the moral right is on the side of pursuance. We have a statute of limitations for small crimes, not for murder, certainly not for mass murder. And whilst some say Demjanjuk is a victim, Danny Finkelstein in the Times, whose mother was at Belsen, has a strong piece which ends ‘I want the victims like my mother to see that we can still tell the difference between them and their prison guards.’

But I can’t help feeling it migh thave been better if someone hadn’t just put a pillow over his head (even though I don’t agree with killing the convicted, much less the unconvicted) or that he should die before the sorry charade gets going. Relatives of the victims of Sobibor want a conviction of someone (Demjanjuk is accused of having been associated with the deaths of some 10% of the people who died in that horror) but if he is acquitted they will die in despair.

02 December, 2009


Today is National Day in the United Arab Emirates and it might be a good time for them to reflect a little.

Last week saw one of the great Central Bank botch jobs. Dubai asked for a moratorium on what in today's market was a modest amount of debt in Dubai World, one of its flagship state entities. The markets, frothy but jittery, didn't like it at all. There was even talk that this might herald a new global recession. What should have happened is that Abu Dhabi, by far the richest of the seven emirates which we used to call the Trucial States (it has 90% of the oil) should have shut down rumours and told everyone there was nothing to worry about. They could have borrowed Peter Mandelson for two days and it would all have been OK.

Now we have Dubai's ruler, Sheikh Muhammed of horse racing fame, trying to calm things down and there is talk of rescheduling all of Dubai's $26bn of debt (nothing by the British Government's standards, of course).

Some people believe that underneath this lies a dispute between the ruling families al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi and Al Maktoum in Dubai. Time to pull your fingers out, gentlemen.

Perugia: false portrait of a town

The trial of Amanda Knox and her boyfriend will be over this week, they say. It has been two years and doubtless has been a heartrending worry for all those concerned.

It will not, however, be over for the place where the crime happened and where the trial is being held. Perugia is what we would call a small county town, the capital of the region of Umbria with a population of about 150,000. It sits atop a steep hill. Visitors stroll through the broad streets, take an aperitivo in the Corso Vanucci or look down from the ancient Etruscan walls over the splendid Umbrian countryside. The Tiber flows close by on its way down to Rome.

Somehow this charming place seems to have acquired a reputation for drugs and violence. It is not justified. The University of Foreigners consists for the great part of young people eager to learn about Italy and enjoying themselves harmlessly. But the tourist trade has been bad and bars and restaurants are closing, thanks to Foxy Knoxy and the lurid press treatment her trial is receiving.

Pity poor Perugia, and come and visit if you can.

01 December, 2009

Scotland: the final solution

I don’t know if Mr Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish National Party and First Minister of Scotland, has ever been seen in the same room as Shrek, but I think the matter should be brought out into the open. Shrekmond has caused some confusion in Scotland by publishing a draft bill for a referendum on the independence of Scotland, leaving the opposition parties to fill in the terms of the question put to the electorate and even the proposed voting system. The opposition parties are against the referendum (and against Scottish independence) and so the thing is likely to go nowhere.

It makes an interesting comparison with Italy, where it is the richer part of the country (the industrialised north) which wants independence from the poorer part.

My advice to the SNP is to start campaigning in England. In these straightened times it would be attractive to the English voter not to have to pay massive subsidies to people who won’t even accept the same laws or health provisions as them and who scarcely make one feel welcome north of the border. In those comfortable southern seats which alternate between Conservative and Liberal a movement could be born.
Avanti, Mr...er...

UK: The Navy East of Suez

The case of five British sailors arrested by Iran points to our less than glorious policy in the region. You will remember that the crew of a fast patrol boat, including a woman, were taken by the Iranians without firing a shot ‘for fear of a diplomatic incident’ (although how they would describe their portrayal on Iranian television and the subsequent negotiations to release them I don’t know).

Then when recently the man and wife crew of a private yacht was captured by pirates we learned a lot later that a Royal Navy vessel had been ‘within 50ft’ and then yet later that it had a detachment of Commandos on it, who never received a call to do anything.

I just want it known that if I am about to be captured by someone and that a bunch of well armed soldiers is nearby, I’d like our guys to shoot the hell out of them. I don’t expect British capability East of Suez to be what it was in the 19th century but I do expect a little more vim than this.

28 November, 2009

World's strongest beer

Tactical Nuclear Penguin from BrewDog on Vimeo.

I'm not sure I would drink this but I like the idea of living in a world where someone is making it

26 November, 2009

Lockerbie: amazing health development

On 20th August, 2009 Abdelbaset al Megrahi was released from a Scottish prison where he was serving time for the worst terrorist attack on the UK. His release was on the grounds that he had less than 3 months to live. I had therefore been expecting to write some sort of obit.

But..... my congratulations to the Libyan Health Service, for he is with us still.

On a completely unrelated matter the Deputy Prime Minister Lord Mandelson and the wife of the former Prime Minister Cherie Blair were seen with Col. Ghaddafi's son at a shooting party recently.

24 November, 2009

UK: DNA and the police state

The scandal over retention of DNA details continues unabated. At its source is that the police do not throw away or give back the details of your DNA even though you are innocent. A report by the Human Genetics Commission says that almost one million innocent people are on the database which, disturbingly, contains the DNA profiles of 75% of black men aged between 18 and 35.

There is evidence that police are being encouraged to make more arrests so as to expand the database.

One of the aspects of this which is not often noted is the attitude of other countries. In most European countries only very serious offenders – terrorists, paedophiles etc are put on a DNA database. So if you are detained, say, in France at the scene of a car accident not caused by you, they can telephone the UK police to see if you are on the register (it takes longer actually to get the details). If you are, perhaps for having been at the scene of another acident, the French assume that you are a serious and perhaps escaped criminal and will obtain a magistrate’s permission to lock you up until they find out more.

This is an appalling situation which David Cameron has promised to rectify. And let’s hope it isn’t just a cast iron guarantee; we’ll be looking for stainless steel now, Dave.

Kafka! thou should'st be living at this hour!

22 November, 2009

The EU and religion

The recent news that Brussels has written to the UK government saying that it could no longer permit opt outs for churches from employing homosexual staff seems to be part of a trend.

It will be recalled that only a few weeks ago they wrote to the Italian government banning crucifixes in schools and that a few years ago Italy’s choice of commissioner, Rocco Buttiglione, was refused by the Euro parliament for being an overt Roman Catholic who could not therefore condone abortion.

I don’t know why the EU is poking its nose into religious affairs – perhaps it feels it already has the secular world sewn up. But it might be a good idea if the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope agreed on one thing (if nothing else): that they tell the bureaucrats they report to a higher power.

21 November, 2009

EU: the madness of Brown

I can scarcely think of a better reason for leaving the European Union than a story in today’s Times. It seems that once it was clear that Tony Blair was not going to get the presidential post, Lord Mandelson, the foreign office and, unfortunately, the Conservative Party advised that Britain’s best interests would be served by our getting one of the top economic jobs.

Gordon Brown, to spite the Tories, ‘went for second best’. That is to say that instead of acting in the interests of his country he followed the narrow, bigoted tribalism that is his ‘moral compass’. He was helped in this by Jose Barroso, the former Maoist head of the Commission, who saw clearly that if a non entity got the Foreign Minister portfolio he would be able to control it himself.

Now it seems that Michel Barnier, a Frenchman, will have the job of regulating the financial markets and, guess what? He is not in favour of the ‘Anglo-Saxon model’.

This insane, politically charged horse trading may well turn out to have cost Britain billions as the financial markets move to Switzerland and Singapore to flee misguided regulation. The French will lose nothing because they never rivalled the City of London anyway.

Madness. Utter madness.

20 November, 2009


A somewhat under reported study by the Basque Public Health Department seems to show that the more you drink the less likely you are to suffer from heart disease.

The study, conducted on 41,500 people seems to be the first to eliminate the ‘sick abstainers’ risk: in the past the evidence of low heart disese rates among drinkers has been explained away by saying that people who were sick to start off with often didn’t drink.

The study found that for those drinking more than 90g alcohol a day, the equivalent of eight bottles of wine a week or 28 pints of lager, the risk of heart disease was 50% less. Alcohol builds up HDL, or ‘good’ cholesterol.

This does not apply to women, however, who suffer less from heart disease anyway.

The news is already being trampled on by the health lobby so enjoy it while you can.

The EU: If we left......

Thanks to the Taxpayers Alliance for this:

The Rumpy Tax

To be fair to Herman van Rompuy, he does have a policy: an EU-wide tax.

I am in favour of this. Let's apportion into a separate tax the amount the EU costs us. Then it could be individual party policy at election time as to whether we should increase it or decrease it.
Well done Rumpy!

EU: and when the music stops...

In one respect the appointment of Herman van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton to the posts of President and Foreign Minister of the European Union is good news: they are both such unimportant little people that they are unlikely to do anything dangerous.

The corollary of that, however, is that Europe will continue to be run, as it always has been, by anonymous, unelected, integrationist bureaucrats.

Van Rompuy owes his not very prominent position to the near break up of Belgium when, it being naturally two countries with pretty well equal populations, they couldn’t agree on a government. The king kept trying different people and eventually when the music stopped it was Rumpy sitting on the chair. To be so inoffensive a Flem that even the Walloons tolerate him is quite something.

Ashton (she has to take leave of the House of Lords, but don’t worry, she’ll be back) has of course never been elected to anything by anyone. A social worker, she headed various quangos until appointed to the House of Lords. When Peter Mandelson left his European post to grace us with his presence she was the one whose services the Government thought they could dispense with.

As usual in Europe this is a stitch up. Merkel and Sarkozy wanted as President someone who wouldn’t give them any trouble and once Rumpy had been chosen from a list of Benelux non-entities they had to have a left winger as Foreign Minister.

The amazing thing is, we let them get away with it.

19 November, 2009

EU President

The decision on a President for the EU is expected today!


Hands up if you were offered a vote in this contest!

No, thought not.

Gettysburg: anniversary of an anthem

Today, 19th November, however, is the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. Here it is

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate...we can not consecrate...we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honoured dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

It is not a pacifist speech, rather, like the poem of John Macrae I quoted for Remembrance Day, it is a call to arms to continue the fight.

But those words, “..that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth” – don’t they send a shiver down your spine, nearly a century and a half later?

Now apply them to your new country, the European Union. We have failed Lincoln, haven’t we? We have walked, only half blindfolded, into rule by the unelected elite, which in the 18th century Lincoln’s forefathers emigrated to escape from.

Let us hope that in the 21st century we have got beyond fighting for freedom, but that we cherish freedom none the less.


Yesterday, unacknowledged by this blog, was Mickey Mouse's birthday. The Times' Comment Central reminds us that in 1991 Wayne Allwine, the third actor behind Mickey, who had lent the Mouse his distinctive voice from 1977 until his death last year, married Russi Taylor, who has been Minnie since 1986.

So it's legal.

I once had lunch with Disney's finance team, who, despite a reputation for meanness, paid the bill.

'It's on the Mouse', they said

Dalai Lama in Italy

Gianfranco Fini, speaker of the lower house and senior coalition partner in Berlusconi's Pdl group, is to be congratulated for receiving the Dalai Lama at his offices.

This takes courage, not just from Fini but from the entire administration, and is to be contrasted with the behaviour of other nations, notably Britain and America.

18 November, 2009


Inflation is rising in the UK and it should be no surprise to those who read this post that one of the items causing the rise was an increase in the price of second hand cars. If you are poor and can only afford an old car, you are paying through your taxes for the better off to buy a new car more cheaply, and at the same time the price of your next second hand car has risen.

Incidentally the Government seems to treat a rise in inflation as good news. It isn't. It means that those on fixed incomes and those who work for a company which cannot afford pay rises and the self employed struggling in a difficult market are all worse off. Those with savings see them eroded by inflation. It isn't good news at all.

Ghaddafi: the meaning of greatness

The story has been out a couple of days now but I can’t help being intrigued about Colonel Ghaddafi and the flower of Italian womanhood. First is the industrial size of the order: Ghaddafi’s office phoned a single company and asked them to send round 500 ‘hostesses’. The company, said by the Corriere della Sera to be Hostessweb.com seems to have complied readily. I mention their name in case any of my readers has a similar requirement.

The second thing is the diplomacy issue. We have all been taught that one word out of place in diplomatic behaviour can be disaster, that discreet comportment is all. Now imagine Gordon Brown turning up in a foreign capital for a meeting on food aid and, when asked if he had any special requests on his visit to the city saying he would like to pitch a large tent inside (even Rome can be a bit chilly in November) a woodland villa, ‘Oh yes, and send some escorts round – a few hundred should meet my needs’. Ghaddafi lectured them on Islam, but it would be no more bizarre if Gordon had addressed them earnestly on quantitative easing.

The girls’ treat was not to end there, however, for it was to be a three day gig. The 200 who were most attractive and conservatively dressed got to listen a fair bit to the great man. One even declared herself a convert (not so easy, one would have thought, to ply her trade in a burqa, but you never know). And there was a question and answer session, during which Ghaddafi was asked what he thought of Berlusconi’s little parties in Sardinia and in the Palazzo Grazzioli. The great man, who has an all female bodyguard with matching lipstick, put his finger to his lips. Too diplomatic to say anything, you see?

At the FAO meeting (remember that? it was the purpose of the visit) Ghaddafi spoke for only ten minutes, thought by some to be the shortest speech of his life (he is normally a two hour man at these set piece occasions). Probably tired.

For another example of such an altruistic vocation in a world leader, we have to turn to the 19th century British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, who worked tirelessly with fallen women, often walking the streets late at night. It is this sort of consideration for others which Ghaddafi has and which so many other leaders – Ghandi, for example – lacked. Food for thought, indeed

14 November, 2009

What's in a name?

I read with amusement the story today that a Canadian government minister had informed a friend by Blackberry of the death of his cat, which he had called ‘Thatcher’ in honour of the great lady, and that the message ‘Thatcher has died’ had been broadcast widely causing grief among Canadian conservatives, with telephone calls to a bemused 10 Downing St and Buckingham Palace.

In the 1980s city dealing rooms it was common for the office junior to be seated in front of the sole Reuters screen shouting out any significant news. In a Japanese bank an unfortunate intern shouted that the skiffle singer Lonnie Donegan had had a heart attack. Because of the lad’s unfortunate pronunciation the dealers thought he meant Ronnie Reagan and started selling the bottom out of the dollar until calls to the Japanese embassy in Washington, then in the middle of the night, revealed the truth.

Both were false alarms. The skiffle king died a couple of years before his ‘namesake’, in 2002.

13 November, 2009

Berlusconi sleeps

Thanks to Austinjohn for the suggestion. Here is the video of the great man dozing off while Medvedev told how he had saved the world


Don't blame him. Hearing the same self-righteous tosh time after time after time would make anyone's eyelids grow heavy, Berlin showed the world blah, freedom cannot be kept behind a wall blah. But where was Berlusca's speech?

What about 'Sono una ciambella' ('ich bin ein berliner' means I am a doughnut).

Superstition - Friday 13th

Thought to be unlucky but nobody seems to know why. It is probably a mixture of Fridays being thought unlucky (probably stemming from Christianity) and the number 13 being unlucky (although this is not true even all over Europe) perhaps from there having been 13 at the last supper.

The Gregorian calendar we use means that there can never be a year without a Friday 13th and that there can never be one with more than 3 (there were three this year, but there will be only one in each of the next two).

A couple of days ago, hearing a squawking noise I opened the door and thirteen magpies rose into the air. Fortunately I am not superstitious (there must have been a fourteenth which I didn't see). The late Queen Mary (Princess Mae of Teck) used to bow three times when she saw a magpie. I'd have been up and down like a Japanese on pay rise day.

A good day for walking under ladders

11 November, 2009

Rembrance Day

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
John McCrae d.1918

10 November, 2009

New environment horror for non-drinkers

WRAP, the Waste & Resource Action Programme quango, warns us against pouring wine down the sink (British households pour away £470 million of wine every year). I don't know how much these guys are paid but have a slight fancy that at a time of cutting public expenditure we might just be able to make a bit of a saving here.

I suspect that the concept of 'leftover wine' may be a new one to some of my readers but apparently it is very damaging to the environment, involving tons of carbon dioxide, if you don't drink the wine and pour it away.

So now you know.

The Berlin wall, 20 years on

I watched on TV the celebrations for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. My first thought was that it seemed to mark the death of oratory. Hillary Clinton spoke, followed by a video of Barack Obama saying much the same thing (do they dislike each other so much that they can’t even co-ordinate their speeches?). Still, they got away with it: this is one of the few places on earth where America is loved. Gordon Brown tried the string of opposites route – freedom not slavery, light not darkness, bratwurst not sauerkraut yawn. Tony Blair made just this speech with different abstract nouns on several occasions and even he found it difficult to pull off without the audience getting restless.

Lech Walesa spoke, but there was no translation. A pity, since without his Solidarity movement in the former German town of Gdansk (Danzig), the East German people might not have been so emboldened. Angela Merkel interestingly reminded us that it was also the 71st anniversary of Kristallnacht, the pogrom which marked the beginning of the holocaust, and that we had to be constantly vigilant. Rather good, I thought.

All the speakers reminded us that there was injustice still in the world, in Burma, Zimbabwe etc (no one mentioned the Uigurs in China nor Tibet, natch) and that the fall of the wall was a beacon for the oppressed. These light metaphors were used so often because in 1980s Berlin everyone could see what was going on – the west could see and speak about the Communist oppression, the east could see Trabants and state newspapers on their side, Volkswagens and a free press on the other. No one seemed to want to say it but until some light is shone into these other oppressed places there will be no people’s revolution. It is the internet which will do that.

08 November, 2009

Cash for clunkers

Actually 'the car scrappage scheme' is what we are supposed to call it in England but cash for clunkers has that ring to it.

We are told that new car sales rose 11% in September, principally as a result of the scheme.

We like to own an old banger so we can leave it at the station without fear of it not being there when we get back, so we can fill it with plants or olives without worrying about dirtying the seats etc. Our last one, a 1992 FIAT Tipo, went the way of all clunkers last week and we are looking for another.

Unfortunately the Italian scrappage scheme, which offers €2,000 on top of the generous discounts ofered by cash strapped motor manufacturers, means that the minimum price for an old car is now €2,000, whereas it was €500 or less.

So as usual with government intervention, it is the poor who pay the price.

Lisbon - has Cameron the backbone?

So, as soon as the dust of the Lisbon Treaty has settled, it is swept under the carpet. Mr Cameron will not have a referendum on Lisbon. He says that if you read the next sentence of his cast iron guarantee it is clear that he didn’t mean it to refer to post ratification. In truth there was never any realistic prospect of a post ratification referendum anyway. He was silly to have said it and to have allowed himself to be boxed into a corner.

Now he says he will try to renegotiate some of Brussels’ powers back. No chance, of course, he’d have to be a lot tougher than he is and his party more united for that to be a possibility. He is hoping we won’t notice come the next election but one. The reason Brussels will not allow Britain to repatriate some powers is the same reason why it would be such a good idea: it would mean any country could do the same – pick the bits of Europe it wanted, rejecting the bits it didn’t (the Common Agricultural Policy springs to mind here). It would mean Europe à la carte. And the European political class can’t allow that.

It seems Cameron wants to renegotiate over a full parliamentary term of five years and that his bargaining chip is that he would veto the budget. Cameron needs two healthy doses of backbone and common sense. Backbone because there is every reason for blocking the budget – it is too large for a post recession Europe and there is so much corruption that the accounts haven’t been signed off by the auditors since Mr Cameron was at school. If that is what you believe - and it is what everyone outside Brussels believes - then just do it. Common sense because he must realise that he can only use the budget veto once. The way these people negotiate is to delay and delay and then say it is urgent for the functioning of the EU that we sign (remember Lisbon?). For this to work Cameron would have to have all his demands prepared on Day 1 and then they would say we were trying to renegotiate the whole of our membership terms.

I have previously been supportive of Cameron but I am coming closer to the view that he might be just a silly young fool – in his political positioning and attituding no different from the Mandelson-Blair lot. Someone who in fact has no strong beliefs but would like to be in power. Perhaps I'm wrong.

Some commentators – Janet Daly, for example – make the point that at least Cameron is doing something, and showing concern about Europe, so we should vote for him. I rather think that Cameron will be elected anyway and that a strong vote for UKIP will give him some much needed determination and direction. Cameron will realise that the only serious threat we can offer is to leave Europe, stop paying its bills either in cash or in excessive regulation. You see, the Brussels elite knows, deep down, that Britain would be better off both democratically and financially, if we left. It is the British who don't know this.

Cannabis and booze - which is worse?

Hot on the heels of Prof. Nutt's sacking for saying alcohol was more dangerous than cannabis, we have the unedifying story - with accompanying picture - of a young man urinating on a war memorial. He had been on a bender organised by a company called Carnage UK. The prof must have smiled wryly.

Gill Hornby in the Sunday Telegraph says that the reason the Government tolerates alcohol and not drugs - and always will - is that alcohol provides taxes. She may be right, I don't know, although I suspect they haven't really gone into it in such detail (they have never shown such concern for the public finances before). Government usually makes policy according to what they think the readers of a targeted newspaper (in this case the Daily Mail, they've lost the Sun) would like to hear. In any case, my scheme of legalising cannabis and taxing it would meet the Hornby requirements.

For me, I wonder if Nutt's criteria are correct. Why are we judging the acceptability of stimulants according to how much damage they do to the people taking them? After all it is their bodies, their decision to harm themselves and if they don't do cannabis they can always stab themselves with a kitchen knife, jump out of a window, throw themselves off a bridge. There are endless opportunities for self-harm which we do nothing to regulate and nor should we. I was once told you coud kill yourself by drinking a large quantity of Worcestershire Sauce.

I wonder if we shouldn't instead have an indexing system based on how much harm individual stimulants do to others or to society as a whole. Heroin for example is far more addictive than cocaine (other than crack cocaine) and it causes addicts to steal and commit other crimes.

Such an index would encourage drinking at home but you would go Class A as soon as you set foot outside.

04 November, 2009

EU President: the candidates

It seems Tony Blair is no longer in line to be President of Europe. To many it will seem a shame, and if I were a supporter of the project I should be in favour of his taking the job, despite his duplicity, his skimpy regard for the truth, his emphasis on appearance over substance. He is far and away the most authoritative candidate, and the European project lacks authority.

Who now, though? I propose two candidates, depending on your view of the EU.

The first, for those who support the European Ideal, is Mary Robinson. She is a senior figure, a former President of Ireland (and the Irish deserve a reward for abandoning their democracy and forcing through the vote as instructed by unelected mandarins) and did 5 years as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Mrs Robinson (her name may be the only drawback) is a moderate, sensible figure. She is 65.

As for the second candidate, for those who think as I do that the EU is a corrupt, anti-democratic, economically illiterate, self serving bully which lines the pockets of its adherents, one figure emerges head and shoulders above the rest, despite being only 5ft tall.

03 November, 2009

Cannabis: time for a change

Professor David Nutt, recently sacked from his post as Chairman of the Advisory Council on the misuse of drugs for criticising the listing of certain drugs, particularly cannabis, has supplied The Guardian with his Danger List. Cannabis is the 11th most dangerous on the list, Tobacco ninth and Alcohol fifth.

Part of the brouhaha surrounding Nutt’s sacking is that some people are saying that the Government should listen to its advisers. Others say that Government doesn’t have to follow whatever the advisers say. The truth of the matter is that these advisory councils are there to confirm whatever the political decision is at the time. If Prof. Nutt wanted to be an independent expert he should have had nothing to do with it.

What the figures bring out for me is that we should urge Western Governments to join us in the legalisation of cannabis. Nineteen people died from the drug last year, which given the number of people who smoke it is remarkably low. It is not particularly addictive and wastes hundreds of thousands of hours of police time. There were 186,000 seizures last year, not counting Scotland. In my view it is perfectly daft that cannabis users are dealt with by the overburdened justice system, whilst people suffering from an excess of alcohol or tobacco are dealt with by the Health Service. And cannabis should be taxed, which would pay for our having to deal with an influx of useless potheads.

The Government needs to get rid of the mentality that anything which is bad for you, unless it is sold in a working men’s club, should be banned. Time for David Cameron, apparently a notorious toker in his youth, to step up to the plate.

01 November, 2009

Rome: where have all the scooters gone?

For a moment as I strolled down the little cobbled alleyway towards our flat I thought I had taken a wrong turning; something was different.

Then I realised: normally this little vicolo is crammed with cars and scooters, parked both sides, making it difficult sometimes even to walk down. All were parked illegally but no one seemed to care.

Now the new mayor, Gianni Alemanno, has done us residents of the historic centre a little bit of good. Everyone was warned and told that after a certain date they would be fined if they parked there. Slowly the streets are becoming pedestrianised - casual traffic including scooters are being sent round another way - and walking in Rome has become a delight. A shame that it took a former fascist to achieve this but well done him.

PS. In return, Gianni, let me give you a little tip. If you are trying to play down your fascist roots, don't be photographed looking stern and authoritarian outside the Colosseum. Handing out toys to children is the image for you.

29 October, 2009

The Internet: now we are 40

At 1030pm on 29th October, 1969 the first message transfer beween two computers took place, on what was then known as the Arpanet. The first message was 'lo'; it was meant to be 'login' but the system crashed after the first two letters.

I believe the designer went on to produce Microsoft Vista.

I have had the internet since 1990 and can confidently say it is the most life changing thing ever. It enables you to read this blog, for example.

28 October, 2009

David Shepherd, Cricketing man

The cricket world mourns the loss, at 68, of David Shepherd. Shep made over 10,000 first class runs for Gloucestershire and became a Test umpire in 1985, officiating in 92 tests.

His superstitious habit of standing on one leg when the score was 'Nelsons', (111, or a multiple thereof), became a bore which he carried on for the crowd.

Shep was a Devon man, decent, honest, convivial, loved and trusted by everyone in the game. He had a good eye, but after one match late in his career, where he was shown to have made a few errors, he was heartbroken, and retired soon after.

For me, Shep was pretty well what the whole damn thing is about.

27 October, 2009

George Osborne

The shadow chancellor has just made one of the most stupid speeches of the year, against some pretty stiff competititon. He says that high street banks should limit their cash bonuses to £2,000 per employee. The suggestion is daft for a number of reasons.

1. It seems rarely understood by the Left (although one might have thought a Tory would grasp it) that shareholders are themselves capitalists and stick to as much of their own money as they can, as capitalists do. They pay what is needed to keep staff; they don't accept lower dividends so everyone can have champagne.

2. Now the Government is a shareholder, it too must pay staff what is needed to keep them (it will be a bit less this year because there aren't so many jobs for them to go to). If you don't pay them you risk losing them.

3. This sort of state interference in a nationalised industry is what Tories should be condemning, not promoting.

4. If the banks lose their best staff they will be worth less when the Government finally sells them off, meanng a loss for the taxpayer.

5. Osborne's wizard wheeze is that the staff will be paid bonuses in the banks' shares. No objection to this, except for the fact that they cannot cash them in for several years so they are seen as tying the employee to the bank. The best ones can get jobs without this restriction. The worst ones will stay.

6. Osborne says this will free up £10bn of bank lending. It won't (increased capital ratio proposals, which Osborne ahs not objected to, will swallow up most of it), and even if it did, that would be such a trivial amount as to be unnoticeable.

Perhaps Osborne is hoping to look like the People's Chancellor and that we'll forget the detail of his speech. My view is that this is an issue on which he would have done better to keep silent.

26 October, 2009

Italy: new leader of the left

Pierluigi Bersani has had an easy victory in the run off to select a leader for the Democratic Party.

Bersani is best known for the 'Bersani Law', passed when he was Minister for Economic Development in the Prodi Administration, which made a stab at deregulating various businesses, including lawyers' fees and making it legal to have your hair cut on a Monday (although it is still next to impossible)

This is good news for the Left, having a clear winner and a credible, experienced candidate. It now needs some policies.

BNP again

It has been said following his appearance on the programme 'Question Time' where all the questions were about his party, that Nick Griffin will benefit from the sympathy vote.

After public criticism from his Mother-in-law, who called him a 'work shy pretender', this can only increase.

24 October, 2009

Italy: economy bigger than Britain

Il Sorpasso was what it was called when in 1987 Italy's economy outstripped Britain's and there was a good deal of publicity, a good deal of celebrating. Italians like to feel proud of their country and this was as good as winning the world cup.

The positions were reversed a few years later and by the turn of the century Britain's economy was a third bigger than the Italian one.

Now there is a second Sorpasso and if Berlusconi has any sense he will milk it for all it is worth. It has been caused by the strength of the euro and the weakness of the pound and is unlikely to last for long. Because it is not in the euro Britain has the right exchange rate and its export industries will benefit. Italy has the wrong exchange rate and will find emergence from recession extremely difficult.

The pound is weak because international investors are worried about the appalling level of debt which Gordon Brown built up even in the good times.

I think that it is too much to expect that Gordon Brown should fall on his sword, although there are whispers that he might do so at Christmas. But it would need more than that to restore confidence in the currency. Britain desperately needs a change of government.

23 October, 2009

UK: The BNP on the telly

I suppose it was a milestone of a sort but the appearance of the British National Party leader Nick Griffin on Question Time has failed to live up to its billing.

I really don’t know if the BNP is a fascist party, which requires an adherence to a corporatist, one party state (just like communism). What I do know is that the British media have engaged for years with communists, equally anti-democratic statists, who have been apologists for the Russian gulags and Chinese labour camps, which have killed tens of millions of people, far worse crimes than the holocaust. So another ghastly anti-democrat here or there on the TV isn’t such a big deal.

The biggest incidence of fascism I saw was leftist thugs bussed in from all parts of the country who claim that freedom of speech in Britain should be restricted to things they agree with. One of those arrested even seemed to be wearing a black shirt.

It was always going to be the case that Mr Griffin would have been better off representing a daring, anti-establishment vote, particularly in a time of widespread criticism of our politicians and that once subjected to the glare of publicity he would look a shambling fool. That is indeed what happened but the BBC came close to ruining it by limiting questions to the subject of the BNP itself.

Griffin needs to be asked about foreign policy towards Russia, about the relevance of quantitative easing, about drinking amongst youngsters, the education system, what we spend on the national health, a host of things for which he is poorly prepared and confronted with which will not look like a political leader.

Still, I suppose it was a start.

21 October, 2009

Bank Regulation: nanny knows best

The announcement by Gordon Brown of restrictions on bank lending, with the stated intent of restricting mortgages to those able to repay them, the statement put out in advance of the Financial Services Association draft rules, is significant for one thing: it is symptomatic of New Labour, of the way the UK has been governed these twelve years.

1. It is superficially attractive. The lay public see the banks offering 125% mortgages and see them go bust, and so think that the one caused the other. But they did not go bust lending to the public. It was their commercial, wholesale lending (a far greater sum) which did for them.

2. It treats the public as idiots, who can’t be expected to work out what they can afford so the government has to regulate it.

3. It displays a complete lack of understanding of business. (a) it is not just the mistaken assumption that personal lending was the cause of the bank’ collapse; they don’t realise that this analysis goes on already. Some people’s circumstances change, losing your job for example, and that cannot be forecast (b) these risks are within the framework both of the banks’ business model and the customer’s self assessment. They are both happy with the risks they are taking and don’t need the government to intervene.

4. Gordon makes the announcement, his placeman in the supposedly independent quango draws up the rules. This shows that the Tories would be right to impose their own people, even though they acknowledge that government patronage is too high, and that it would be an idiocy if Adair Lord Turner were, as has been mooted, appointed a deputy governor of the Bank of England.

These awful people just can’t help interfering. It will be a huge weight off the people’s backs when they are finally voted out.

18 October, 2009

Italy and Afghanistan: strange news

I return from a short stay in France to all manner of strange stories. The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, is let off with having to make a brief, grudging apology to Parliament, after defrauding the taxpayer of over £100,000, telling blatant lies to civil servants. A Tory MP is accused of paying £3,000 a month of expenses money to a company owned by him and his partner and he says the system was approved by the authorities. A further 27 MPs are being investigated by the taxman.

But the most interesting story, as is so often the case, involved Silvio Berlusconi. It is reported in the Times that the Italians bribed the Taliban to keep quiet in Sarobi, the region of Afghanistan they were given to look after. They failed to tell the French, who took over from them, what they had been up to, so the French underestimated the risk and ten of their soldiers were killed. Berlusconi has denied the veracity of the report. The Taliban say it is true.

The evidence for believing Berlusconi was that there is a long running dispute between him and Rupert Murdoch over Italian pay-TV, and the Murdoch papers are known to be looking for stories to discredit him. I put it to a number of Italians at a lunch party, some of them pro-Silvio some anti, and they all thought it was true (ie they believed the Taliban, not their Prime Minister) but not really wrong. This sort of tricksy manoeuvring, furbizia as it is known, is rather admired in Italy. Most people thought they should have told the French, though admit it would have been embarrassing to do so.

It is a curious philosophical question. Is it wrong to spend quite a small sum of money in order to avoid casualties? Wouldn't the British and Americans rather have spent, say, £10,000 per man and avoided all those fatalities?

But in that case why send the soldiers at all? Why not just identify a trouble spot somewhere on the globe and post a cheque? Is the Italian action wrong because we would be gaining credit for being all military and tough and moral when in fact the matter had been handled not by soldiers but by accountants? Or is it that such an expediency merely invites more violence, since the violent get paid?

Those are the questions with which the whole of Italy is entirely unconcerned this weekend.

11 October, 2009

BBC: climate change shocker

This from Paul Hudson, the BBC's climate change correspondent under the headline 'What happened to global warming?'

'This headline may come as a bit of a surprise, so too might that fact that the warmest year recorded globally was not in 2008 or 2007, but in 1998.

But it is true. For the last 11 years we have not observed any increase in global temperatures.
And our climate models did not forecast it, even though man-made carbon dioxide, the gas thought to be responsible for warming our planet, has continued to rise
. '

Of course these facts are not a surprise, many of us have been repeating them for years. What is a surprise is that the BBC should undergo this Pauline conversion, after only 11 years of cooling.

The new theory they favour is Pacific Decadal Oscillation (following the temperatures of the Pacific Ocean) which suggests we have another 30 years of cooling ahead of us.

Perhaps we could now have an apology?

10 October, 2009

Moon conspiracy theory

The Americans say they intentionally crashed a spacecraft into the moon.

I wonder: I'm sure I heard a cry of 'Allahu Akbar' as the thing went in.

09 October, 2009


It is being said in the left wing press that it is too early to cut expenditure; economists are being wheeled out to say it would be a mistake and this is being used as the Labur led attack on Cameron/Osborne economics. I think there is some (intentional) confusion here: it is not easy to find an economist who thinks this level of government expenditure is sustainable for long or who believes a sudden surge in growth is going to come from somewhere to get us out of the problem.

It is of course true that if you start pressing down on the money supply while the economy has not yet emerged into safety you run risks of stalling the recovery. My opinion is ignore this: what little exsperience of expenditure cuts exists (and it is usually forgotten in Labour circles that under Mrs Thatcher it rose inexorably, year after year, no cuts at all) suggests that it takes longer than you think. Look at the options:

Pension age: nothing is going to happen with this until 2016.

ID cards: to the extent these expenditures are already in the figures, this would be an immediate cut.

Local government: we all think that local councils shouldn't have diversity advisers and minority culture co-ordinators, but without taking away local powers (and quite the reverse, localising more, appears to be the fashion) all government can do is cut the subsidies. Local councils are then quite capable of keeping the diversity advisers and closing schools. It would take years to educate them out of this.

Big projects: someone always asks what the alternative would be. Cut the Navy's new aircraft carriers and they'll ask how they can get their planes around. Cut Trident and we'll need some other force de frappe to maintain our seat at the top table. Cut the Eurofighter and there will be tales of woe from the RAF. Cut the east coast main line and we'll have to spend more on roads. And each one will want a public enquiry, taking years.

And so it goes on. Civil servants don't want to lose their departments and introduce delays of their own. My advice is to start trying to cut as from Day 1. Then over a five year term you might have started. Start by selling things; everything a government doesn't need to own but which can be run perfectly well or better by the private sector: hospitals, post offices etc. This brings in immediate cash, the other things are just tinkering.

Nobel Peace Prize

The award of the Nobel Prize for Baroque Obama is perfectly ridiculous. Apparently he was nominated two weeks after his election and even now has achieved nothing on the world stage except increase the number of troops in Afghanistan.

They would have done better with Silvio

08 October, 2009

Boy George

This from the excellent Matthew Parris who is covering the Conservative conference for the Times:

Anxious on Tuesday to establish the time of George Osborne’s speech expected towards the end of the morning, I approached a senior Conservative MP. “Osborne?” I said, “About 12?”

“Goodness me, no, dear boy. He’s at least 14.”

Italy: new problems for Silvio

Silvio Berlusconi said when he finally passed through parliament the bill guaranteeing him immunity from prosecution 'now I won't have to spend Saturdays talking to my lawyer'.

Now he has lost his immunity and if it is bad news for Silvio it may also be bad news for Italy. Despite asserting the primacy of the constitution and despite eliminating what was clearly a cynical manoeuvre to keep the Prime Minister out of the courts, the country will now have to suffer a new era of mistrust between the government and the judiciary, and few years of political posturing by those who see themselves as his successors, both inside and outside his party.

The business of government will have to take second place for a bit.

06 October, 2009

Australia: unmitigated tinnies disaster

Their case almost unheard in the cosy human rights salons of the West, Australian motor racing fans are suffering inhuman crackdowns to their civil liberties.

Spectators at the Bathurst 1000, a 3-day motor racing event, will be restricted to 24 cans of beer a day, or 4 litres of wine.

There is no word yet as to whether the British government intend to copy this rule.

EU: Greece: no change

When I used to visit Greece on business in the 1980s the President was called Karamanlis and the Prime Minister Papandreou. The latest election in Greece has been fought between George Papandreou (son and grandson of previous Prime Ministers) and Kostas Karamanlis (nephew). It seems to have been the turn of Papandreou, with his PASOK (Pan-Hellenist Socialist Movement) party, in defiance of a movement all over Europe towards the centre right..

Both PASOK and its opponents, New Democracy, are deeply corrupt and no change is anticipated to the direction of Greek life, which is downwards. The policy of both parties is to await the next cheque from the European Union, which one day will not arrive.

05 October, 2009

Scotland: not for a Cameron

It gives me a warm, generous feeling to recommend to you an article in the Guardian by Jackie Ashley. You see, not only is Ms Ashley the long suffering wife of New Labour apologist turned tricky questioner Andrew Marr, but it is a rare treat because usually she writes complete bilge.

The article makes the point that the referendum David Cameron ought to be worried about is not a possible one on Europe (don't hold your breath is my advice) but one in Scotland on independence. The argument runs that once the Scots have seen the extent of the budget cuts, and given that New Labour is likely to be weak north of the border and the Conservatives even weaker, they will flood to the polling booths and vote for secession.

'Bring it on' is my view, but the article's title 'Cameron could well be the last ever UK Prime Minister' does make you think.

03 October, 2009

UK: The Conservatives and Europe

I have often had my differences with the Conservative Party, but the one major problem for me has always been its supineness over Europe. I was once a Conservative, culminating in being on the shortlist for the candidacy in a safe seat, but left and helped start UKIP because of John Major's acceptance of Maastricht.

Mr Cameron, when it became clear that the Labour Party had no intention of honouring its pledge to hold a referendum on the European Constitution, or Lisbon Treaty, said that the Conservatives would hold a referendum. This then changed to holding a referendum if Lisbon hadn't been ratified by the time of the election, and if it had they 'would not let matters rest' whatever that means. You see: supine.

The result of the Irish vote is due this afternoon and if the opinion polls are to be believed they will vote yes. It now seems less than likely, as Mary Ellen Synon thinks, that Vaclav Klaus in the Czech Republic can hold out. The Conservative Conference is about to start and Cameron and Hague cannot get through it without some open debate on Europe. If they stick to their original pledge to hold a referendum whatever, then the first year or so of Conservative rule will be smothered by the European issue (although this might be a good thing: if you want to take some unpopular decisions do it while the press are wittering on about something else). If they roll over should the Treaty be ratified they will look weak and unpopular to the Eurosceptics; Ukip came second in the European elections and has 13 MEPs.

One answer being mooted is that they accept Lisbon but pledge to repatriate some spheres of influence from Brussels. This could include the Working Time Directive, which makes a criminal of anyone trying to do the best for his family and work overtime.

Such a statement, and it would have to be a clear statement, would be good enough for me. I don't want the rescue of the economy to be overshadowed by the European issue, but this would be a clear statement that we are going to insist on a two speed (or multi-speed) Europe. So in the future we and other countries would have the option according to this precedent of opting into or out of any more nonsense like an upgraded European army, or repatriating a few more, like foreign policy.

Let's see what happens over the next few days. This is Mr Cameron's chance to show a bit of steel. He'll get my vote if he does.

01 October, 2009

BAe and bribery

BAe Systems, which we used to know as British Aerospace, Britain’s largest manufacturing company, may face bribery charges. Ironically the Serious Fraud Office will approach Baroness Scotland, herself recently found guilty of a breach of the law in relation to her employing an illegal immigrant. This is a good example of why Baroness Scotland should have resigned some time ago: even if she is inclined to rule out a prosecution she will go ahead so she doesn’t seem corrupt (Ha!).

BAe is alleged to have paid bribes relating to contracts in Africa and Eastern Europe. An earlier charge of bribery with respect to a Saudi arms contract was not pursued on the grounds that it was not in the national interest to do so (it would have brought up the names of which members of the Saudi Royal Family were on the take, and it’s a fairly long list).

People often forget that the sin here is the taking of the bribe. It means that someone of influence has caused the Saudis to buy British planes or weaponry, irrespective of their suitability, because of the bribe: in other words someone paid by the Saudi Government (or Tanzania or whatever) is not acting in the interests of their employers and feathering his own nest at their expense.

Everybody would like to see this practice die out but to use as a means of killing it the banning of the paying of bribes is plain daft. In some countries it is impossible to make a sale without paying bribes and if you don’t you lose the business. Badly run countries are being allowed to pass on the burden of policing their corrupt systems to foreign contractors: these governments are quite happy with the bribes system and do nothing to stop it– senior people are involved, after all. It is only the bien pensant West (and not all of that) which is troubled by it.

In the meantime there are plenty of nations which are quite happy with the concept, for example France and China, and so British jobs are lost.

This is madness. I could almost forgive Barones Scotland her sins if she had the courage to stand up and say so.